Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry put some considerable thought into the team’s defensive line this offseason.
The Browns rebuilt their depth with the free agent signings of Adrian Clayborn and Andrew Billings, and the selection of Jordan Elliott in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
There is still continued speculation, however, that the Browns are still interested in adding to the starting unit as the team has been linked to free agent defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Everson Griffen.
But what if Berry decides to keep the status quo at defensive end for the upcoming season?
That may not be a bad path to follow, at least according to Ben Linsey at Pro Football Focus, who ranks Cleveland’s starting defensives Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon as the league’s second-best duo of edge defenders:
Before his suspension, Garrett was on his way to a career year as a pass-rusher. His 91.6 pass-rush grade through the first 11 weeks of the 2019 season ranked first among all edge defenders with 100 or more pass-rushing snaps, trailing only Aaron Donald among all defenders. His 25.0% pass-rush win rate — a number that takes into account not just pressures but also plays on which Garrett beat his blocker without recording a quarterback hurry, hit or sack — came in at third in the league behind just Joey Bosa and J.J. Watt. A swing of Mason Rudolph’s helmet stopped all that momentum, but there’s no reason to believe Garrett won’t return to the field in 2020 as one of the league’s best edge defenders.
As for Vernon, the New York Giants shipped him to Cleveland with the narrative that he massively underperformed the lucrative contract they signed him to. That narrative has followed him to Cleveland, where there were reports this offseason that the Browns made a significant offer to Jadeveon Clowney to line up across from Garrett. Yes, Vernon has dealt with his fair share of injuries, and ability is reliant on availability, but his 86.6 overall grade in the regular season since signing that contract in 2016 ranks 21st among 99 qualifying edge defenders. He is still a good player — one capable of playing both the run and pass well — when healthy. The Browns will be hoping that’s what they get next season.
There is not much left to be said about Garrett, who has joined the league’s elite pass rushers during his three seasons since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
In 37 career games, Garrett has posted 30.5 sacks and has Reggie Camp’s franchise record of 14 sacks in a single season squarely in his crosshairs. The Browns are reportedly in discussions with Garrett about a contract extension, meaning that Clay Matthews’ franchise record for career sacks of 62 is certainly well within Garrett’s reach.
As for Vernon, his biggest weakness is his availability as he has not played a full season since 2016 and has missed 15 total games over the past three years. But as PFF points out, Vernon is still a productive player if he can remain healthy.
The Browns may not be done working on the defensive line, but if they decide to stand pat for another year and Vernon can stay healthy, they may end up being just fine.