The Cleveland Browns made headlines on Friday by trading for defensive end Olivier Vernon, who spent the past two seasons with the New York Giants.
Vernon is coming off a solid season with the Giants, despite playing just 11 games due to an injury. He finished the year with a team-high seven sacks, bringing his career total to 51 in seven seasons. And while not exactly stout against the run, Vernon is not a disaster in that area, which is nice.
Vernon has done all that, for the most part, as his team’s primary pass rusher, which means he has gone up against the opposing team’s top pass blockers for the majority of his career. With Myles Garrett filling that role on the Browns, Vernon should see more one-on-one match-ups and that can only help.
With the trade of Olivier Vernon to the #Browns, Cleveland now has two of the top 7 edge rushers in terms of pass-rushing grade in 2018 (min. 200 pas rush snaps)— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) March 9, 2019
6. Garrett (86.2)
7. Vernon (86.0)
As long as the can stay healthy - Vernon has only played 23 total games over the past two seasons - it is hard to argue that the Browns are not better on defense following the trade.
The real risk comes on the other side of the transaction, as the Browns chose to give up starting right guard Kevin Zeitler in the deal.
The Browns took off in the second half of last season as then-offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Baker Mayfield clicked. That foundation of that success came from the interior line play of Zeitler, left guard Joel Bitonio and center J.C. Tretter, as Pro Football Focused pointed out near the end of the season:
The Cleveland offensive line has allowed Mayfield to maintain the fifth-highest clean dropback rate in the NFL (71.2%), and this mark has translated well to Mayfield having success on the field, as his completion percentage drops from 67.8% on throws from a clean pocket to 54.3% on throws under pressure.
Mayfield’s success as a deep passer is one of the many attributes that make him Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked quarterback in the NFL (84.1), but pressure can restrict this explosiveness. Mayfield ranks fourth in the NFL in total big-time throws (23) when operating from a clean pocket, but he performs them at the league’s second-highest rate (6.8%) just behind Russell Wilson.
The Browns have a succession plan in place at right guard in Austin Corbett, one of the team’s second-round selections in the 2018 NFL Draft. Corbett is far from a sure thing, despite what general manager John Dorsey’s disciples will have you believe, seeing as how Corbett spent his college career as a left tackle and didn’t exactly impress in the preseason last year when the Browns tried him at left guard.
Browns fans spent every Sunday afternoon last fall complaining about the play of the team’s offensive tackles, and now with the addition of Corbett, the team is currently looking at questions marks along 60 percent of its offensive line, as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell points out:
Now, suddenly, Mayfield’s line is a major question mark. Starting left tackle Greg Robinson, whose deal is farther down in this file, has an addiction to holding penalties. The Browns will unquestionably replace Zeitler with 2018 second-rounder Austin Corbett, who played 14 offensive snaps as a rookie. Could Corbett turn out to be a useful player? Of course. Is it worth trading away an excellent guard to find out? It seems like a risky proposition, especially given that the Browns hardly need cap space. The idea of having Corbett as depth for the inevitable offensive line injuries every team deals with during a season seems more appealing than moving an upper-echelon lineman to get him into the lineup.
This isn’t to bag on Corbett. He’s a hard worker and was projected to be an interior line player entering the draft. He also has all of training camp and the preseason to hone his game, so making the move now as opposed to a couple of days before the season opener is comforting. There is also some validity to the argument that Corbett doesn’t have to be as good as Zeitler, just as long as he is not a disaster.
The Browns are better on defense with the acquisition of Vernon. They believe they will be fine along the offensive line with Corbett instead of Zeitler.
For Mayfield’s longterm health, they better be right.