The Cleveland Browns defensive front was supposed to be elite in 2019.
At least that’s what the thought was at the start of the season.
The additions of Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson – with Garrett and Ogunjobi already in the fold – have made the #Browns pass-rush a top-3 unit heading into 2019https://t.co/X8PjiDVHdM pic.twitter.com/Xb1wDboYQV
— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) July 18, 2019
With newly acquired Olivier Vernon playing opposite of Myles Garrett, a consistent pass rush seemed inevitable.
And, despite just three sacks at the time, Vernon was doing a good job of creating pressure through week nine with Garrett.
Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon have combined for almost 70 pressures through Week 9! 💪💪 pic.twitter.com/auxez5xkHb
— PFF (@PFF) November 10, 2019
That pressure quickly became a thing of the past, however.
When Garrett was suspended following his week 11 incident with Mason Rudolph and the Steelers, opposing offensive lines no longer had to shift extra attention his way.
This meant Vernon was now the Browns top pass-rushing threat, and teams knew it.
Vernon tallied just half a sack the rest of the season.
But Garrett’s suspension wasn’t the biggest issue for Vernon.
Olivier had a heck of a time trying to stay on the football field.
Vernon suffered a knee injury towards the end of the team’s week nine loss in Denver and was simply not the same player afterward.
He missed three straight games on two separate occasions and played just twice after the Broncos game.
Additionally, he played just ten snaps in the week 13 loss to the Steelers.
As a whole, the numbers in 2019 were just flat-out disappointing for Vernon.
He posted a career-low in total tackles with just 26 and tied a career-low with 3.5 sacks.
Remember the pressure he created at the start of the season?
Olivier finished with just 11 total quarterback hits, his lowest mark since his rookie season in Miami.
It may not be fair to criticize the numbers for him since he appeared in just ten games.
That, however, is a problem in and of itself.
He hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2016.
On top of that, the former Pro Bowler is getting paid like a current one.
Whether it’s because of injuries or not, falling short of expectations with a huge contract will almost always draw scrutiny from a fan base.
Vernon is set to make over $15 million next season according to Spotrac.
That’s the largest contract on the team going into the 2020 season.
The Browns still have some cap space flexibility, but $15 million is still a big chunk of change to spend on someone who doesn’t seem to be able to stay on the field.
As mentioned, Vernon fell short of expectations even when he was lining up on defense.
The trade that sent Kevin Zeitler to New York for Vernon should be considered a loss at this point.
Texts I’m getting, “Would you rather have Olivier Vernon or Kevin Zeitler in this game?”
— Anthony Lima (@SportsBoyTony) December 1, 2019
That leaves new general manager Andrew Berry with some decisions to make.
Of course, a top edge rusher is something every team across the NFL covets.
It can serve as the base of your entire defensive scheme and wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
If Berry doesn’t think Vernon can provide that for the Browns in 2020, should he consider finding a trade partner or possibly cutting him?
My short answer would be yes.
If the Browns release him, they would create 15.5 million in cap space.
Garrett should be back at some point or another, plus, other top guys will need new contracts here soon.
Morgan Burnett and Larry Ogunjobi both fall off the books after this season and have been good when on the field with Cleveland.
Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett, Christian Kirksey, and Sheldon Richardson will all need new deals just one year after that.
Point is, there are a lot of other guys on this roster that Berry needs to consider for the long-term.
I’m not sure that Olivier Vernon is one of those guys.