METAIRIE, La. (AP) New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro will serve a four-game suspension, starting this Sunday at Tampa Bay, because he violated league rules pertaining to performance enhancing drug use, the NFL announced Friday.
The league did not specify which banned substance was found in Vaccaro’s system. The league not only bans steroids, but also diuretics that have been known to mask steroid use, so a positive test for either could have triggered a suspension.
The Saints have four regular-season games left, meaning Vaccaro’s won’t play again this season unless New Orleans (5-7) rallies to make the playoffs. The Saints trail NFC South Division leaders Tampa Bay and Atlanta by two games.
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Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said the Saints were aware of the initial positive test, which had to be confirmed and could have been appealed, so he and his staff had time to develop a contingency plan for this very scenario.
”We’re ready to go out and execute that contingency plan,” Allen said. ”Obviously, when you lose a guy of his caliber, it’s tough and hard on your defense. It’s hard on the football team, but yet it’s no different than dealing with injuries throughout the season. These things happen and you have to be prepared for them when they do.”
Vaccaro, a first-round draft choice out of Texas in 2013, was in on 67 solo or assisted tackles this season. He had one sack, five tackles for losses, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and eight quarterback hits.
His versatility has allowed the Saints to play in a number of three-safety alignments on defense, with Vaccaro playing near the line of scrimmage and covering slot receivers or tight ends – acting sort of as a hybrid linebacker and nickel back – while fellow safeties Jairus Byrd and Vonn Bell played deeper and in roles more traditional for safeties.
Veteran reserve safety Roman Harper is one player who could be called upon to play more in Vaccaro’s absence. New Orleans also on Friday signed a new linebacker, Travis Feeney, off of Pittsburgh’s practice squad.
”Certainly, anytime you lose a player of (Vaccaro’s) caliber, it affects how you go about game-planning,” Allen said. ”That is something that, as we went throughout this week and over the last few weeks, it is something that we have had to keep in the back of our mind because you never knew when this was going to occur. It is certainly something that we have had to pay attention to over the last few weeks.”
Saints had coach Sean Payton said Vaccaro could have appealed, but that it made more sense for him to accept a four-game suspension now, rather than risk having a later suspension that could carry over into next season.
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