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Cleveland Browns Free Agent Review: DE Olivier Vernon

Vernon had a very strong second half of the season before rupturing his Achilles’ tendon.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Next up on our 2021 review of the Browns’ unrestricted free agents is DE Olivier Vernon.

Indianapolis Colts v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

How and When He Joined the Browns: In March 2019, Vernon was part of a package deal between the Browns and the Giants. Cleveland traded a 1st-round pick in 2019, 3rd round pick in 2019, OG Kevin Zeitler, and S Jabrill Peppers in exchange for WR Odell Beckham Jr and Vernon.

Productivity Level Last Season: Through Week 7, Vernon didn’t have any sacks and had only registered 2 hits on the quarterback in 5 games played. Over his final 8 games, he turned things up a notch, logging 9 sacks and 14 quarterback hits. Much of that production ended up coming when Myles Garrett was out with an injury, or when he was still laboring a bit from COVID-19.

Vernon finished the season with a grade of 74.6 from PFF, which ranked 21st in the NFL among defensive ends. After being a warrior in snap counts down the stretch, Vernon sadly ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in the team’s Week 17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Why Keeping Him Could Make Sense: It’s easy to say “why” the Browns should keep Vernon: on a defense that was generally bad, Vernon ended up being one of the team’s most impactful defenders. There’s never a good time for a player to get an injury, but if you’re talking about the worst possible time, Vernon’s injury falls into that category.

What the Browns Should Do: Last offseason, there were rumors that the Browns might try to unload Vernon because he was making too much against the cap for his production level. Ultimately, the two sides decided to restructure his deal — he basically played on a 1-year, fully guaranteed $11 million deal with up to $2 million in incentives. It’s not clear what those incentives were or if he reached them. He also had a clause in his contract to ensure the team could not place a franchise or transition tag on him.

Vernon was hoping to secure one last big free agent deal with a strong finish to the 2020 campaign. He was well on his way to doing that until the injury. Now, who is going to sign him? An Achilles’ injury can be a 9-12 month recovery. The optimistic side of that timeline (9 months) means that Vernon could be ready to play somewhere in late-September. Or, the pessimistic side could have him ready some time in December. Is a team going to offer him a multi-year contract worth the amount of money he hopes to get?

I don’t know what the precedent is on teams signing players with injuries like this for a guy who is 31 years old. I don’t think Cleveland was planning on making him a big offer if he hadn’t been injured, but now, I think it would be worth offering him something like a 1-year deal for $2 million, with big incentives built into it based on the number of games he’s active for. Ultimately, though, I think Vernon will wait until he’s recovered before he tries to sign with a team. Let’s say that is in October. He will work out for some playoff contenders, and if he seems to be recovered, someone will offer him a 1-year deal at that point in time. I think the odds are against him being back in a Browns uniform in 2021.

Let us know below whether or not the team should try to re-sign Olivier Vernon.


Should the Browns re-sign DE Olivier Vernon?

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