The rumors are swirling around Berea that Cleveland Browns edge rusher Olivier Vernon could be on the chopping block. The latest comes from cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, Vernon is under consideration to be released if he does not accept a pay cut. The 29-year-old is entering the final season of his five-year, $85 million deal. So, his future in Cleveland is very much in doubt if the reports are true. I believe this is a mistake. The Browns should not let go of Vernon.
Vernon missed six games and hobbled for a few more of the games that he was on the field, ending the season with only 3.5 sacks. But, even though his stats were not up to his usual level, he still performed at a good level. His value came as an all-around edge defender with the ability to pressure the quarterback but also set a strong edge in the run game. He may have not loaded the stat sheet, but his impact was felt when he was on the field. Vernon is a talented edge rusher with the skill set teams would love to have as their second-best edge rusher on their depth chart. A player of his ilk does not grow on trees and is not easy to come by.
The No. 1 argument many have in terms of letting go of Vernon is that his price tag does not fit the production he had last season. He would make $15.25 million this fall, which would be his final year on his current contract. That price tag would be the eighth highest in the league amongst defensive ends. Yes, that is a high price to pay, but it is only for one more year. It is not like this is a multi-year investment that will cost the Browns money for an extending number of years. With Cleveland’s 2020 cap space already amongst the most in the NFL, the release of Vernon is not needed in terms of cap relief.
Yes, he did not play up to his usual level of play last season. So, many may feel down on him right now. However, his injuries really affected him greatly. If the Browns can get a healthy Vernon next season, the Browns will have one of the better edge rushers in the NFL alongside the other top tier edge rusher in Myles Garrett.
The other huge point in the favor of keeping Vernon is what Cleveland has behind him on the depth chart. Even though Vernon had an inferior year than he was used to, his production was leaps and bounds better than any other edge rusher on the roster not named Myles Garrett. The Browns were a disaster when Garrett or Vernon missed time this year because none of the backup players were able to step up in their absence. The likes of Chris Smith, Chad Thomas, Porter Gustin, and Bryan Cox were not good enough. The orange and brown cannot afford to give up the talent of Vernon with what they have behind him. There is no clear replacement on the team that could come close to filling Vernon’s production level.
Releasing Vernon will create a hole that will just add another major necessity to the list of Browns’ offseason needs. Cleveland already has a lot to do this offseason. Creating holes where they do not need to be made is the wrong way to go. If the Browns do let Vernon go, the avenues to fill the need comes with costs. In free agency, a starting level edge rusher will come with a long term contract at or even above the price tag that Vernon has for this coming season. And if they try to fill it through the draft, this takes away a pick that they could use on another position of need.
I just don’t see any of the positives that are there with letting Vernon go. The Browns cannot be in the business of creating more holes. So, the Browns should keep Vernon going into next season.