Kenny Vaccaro retiring from NFL after eight seasons to launch esports organization

Kenny Vaccaro is calling it a career and immediately stepping into a new, virtual arena.

The former Titans and Saints defensive back is retiring and shifting his attention to the launch of a new esports organization co-founded by Vaccaro and two professional gamers/entrepreneurs, according to a news release from the organization, G1 (also known as Gamers First).

"This isn't a reflex decision for me; it's something I've thought about for a long time," Vaccaro said in the statement. "I've been a gamer for even longer than I've played football, and I've always thought of myself as a gamer first. So this is the realization of a long-term dream for me. And while football has been how many have defined me, G1 is evidence for other athletes as well that life doesn't end just because you put down the helmet. You can reinvent yourself."

Vaccaro is trading his football helmet for a headset, aiming to pursue a world esports championship in the first-person shooter game known as Halo. He leaves behind a football career that included 110 games played (109 starts), 610 career tackles, 35 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions and 44 passes defensed in eight seasons.

A first-round pick out of Texas in 2013, Vaccaro replaced veteran Roman Harper in the Saints' first month of the 2013 season and went on to thrive, earning PFWA All-Rookie Team honors in his first NFL season. It was an inspiring start to a career that largely leveled out from there, with Vaccaro providing reliably adequate play but never quite ascending to the Pro Bowl or All-Pro status expected of a first-round pick.

The Saints eventually parted ways with Vaccaro following the expiration of his rookie contract, turning instead to players like Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams to fill Vaccaro's role.

This departure led Vaccaro to Tennessee, where the Titans had an immediate need at safety following Johnathan Cyprien's torn ACL suffered prior to the start of the 2018 regular season. Vaccaro stepped in and played 42 regular season games and four postseason games with the Titans, recording an interception in Tennessee's upset win over Baltimore in the 2019 season's Divisional Round.

He finished his time in Tennessee last year and was out of football before announcing his retirement Wednesday. With esports becoming an emerging media frontier and gaming growing more popular than ever, Vaccaro -- a member of the generation that grew up playing PlayStation 2 and Xbox, including the original Halo -- will now be able to pursue his next competitive passion.

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