The New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns made the biggest trade of the 2019 season.
Just a few days later, they made an even bigger trade involving Odell Beckham Jr.
And officially, the Odell Beckham acquisition is part of the same deal.
But for a few precious moments, the Browns’ trade of Kevin Zeitler for Olivier Vernon was a pretty big deal.
The Olivier Vernon-Kevin Zeitler trade benefits both teams, but it's clear that the Browns will benefit in the long run from the move https://t.co/wHMkv2c8dc
— The MMQB (@theMMQB) March 9, 2019
Zeitler was released by the Giants in a salary cap move this week.
Olivier Vernon hits free agency after playing out his renegotiated contract for Cleveland.
Neither player is likely to return to his former team.
Vernon suffered a late-season achilles injury and Zeitler said his good-byes to New York.
As both players move on, it’s time to debate who won the Olivier Vernon-Kevin Zeitler trade?
It Was Billed As A Win-Win Deal
Back in March of 2019, Cleveland was flush with cap space and determined to add an edge rusher.
New York was desperate to straighten out their offensive line woes.
And Olivier Vernon was tying up a lot of cap room in a defense that didn’t make good use of him.
Cleveland agreed to take on Vernon’s $15.5 million dollar contract, hoping he would thrive opposite Myles Garrett.
From our breaking news segment: The #Browns and #Giants made a big-time trade. Olivier Vernon to Cleveland; Kevin Zeitler to New York … and it actually helps both teams. pic.twitter.com/MJwGFiF33d
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 8, 2019
New York landed a top-notch guard to anchor their reworked offensive line.
But any savings realized by Zeitler’s $10 million salary was offset by an $8 million dead cap hit from Vernon.
Zeitler was a vital cog in the interior of Cleveland’s line along with JC Tretter and Joel Bitonio.
The trio helped the Browns rank as the fourth-best pass-blocking unit in the NFL despite issues at both tackles.
But GM John Dorsey thought Austin Corbett would slide right in at Zeitler’s right guard spot.
The loss of Vernon left a hole in the Giant’s defensive line the Giants hoped to fill via the draft or free agency.
After One Year, It Was Advantage: Giants
New York shifted from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 in 2019, making the loss of Vernon tricky to gauge.
The defensive line was the strongest unit on a mediocre defense, aided by the midseason acquisition of Leonard Williams.
But the free-agent signing of linebacker Markus Golden was supposed to boost the pass rush.
The Browns have traded G Austin Corbett, the 33rd pick in the 2018 draft, to the Rams for a draft pick.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 15, 2019
All Golden did was rack up 10 sacks, the most by a Giants linebacker since Lawrence Taylor.
Back in Cleveland, Olivier Vernon played just 10 games due to injury, with 3.5 sacks and a career-low tackle total.
If that wasn’t bad enough, while Zeitler played to his usual level in New York, Austin Corbett struggled.
Things were bad enough that Dorsey jettisoned Corbett to the Los Angeles Rams for a 2021 5th round pick.
Wyatt Teller stepped in and held his own, but did not stand out in Freddie Kitchens’ offense.
The Pendulum Swung Back to Cleveland in 2020
Kevin Zeitler was easily the best and most consistent member of the Giants’ 2020 offensive line.
But the line ranked 32nd overall in the NFL, so the Giants did not get much for their investment.
In Vernon’s old spot, Markus Golden was unhappy with the lowball contract he was forced to sign in a rarely used personnel maneuver.
Golden did not record a sack until Week 7, and the next day he was traded to Arizona.
Olivier Vernon's third sack of the day is a safety!
+2 for the home team. #Browns pic.twitter.com/gOiuk0dnrm
— FOX Sports Cleveland (@FOXSportsCLE) November 22, 2020
But in Cleveland, Wyatt Teller blossomed into the top-ranked offensive lineman in the league.
Andrew Berry and the Browns added pieces that helped Teller lead the line to an overall top PFF unit-ranking.
Olivier Vernon reworked his contract to help the team and then surprised many with a rebound season.
He especially stepped up when Myles Garrett missed games with the Covid virus.
Vernon and Teller played vital roles in the Browns’ first playoff season since 2002.
Zeitler was forced out as a salary cap casualty after New York’s 6-10 season.
And that means the Cleveland Browns win the Kevin Zeitler for Olivier Vernon part of the trade hands-down.
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