The New York Giants had an abysmal pass rush in 2016, 30th in the NFL in sacks and in Adjusted Sack Rate at 4.1 percent. Defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers can be free agents. The Giants obviously need defensive end help, and the best defensive end expected to hit the open market is Olivier Vernon of the Miami Dolphins.
So, let's talk about whether Vernon and the Giants could actually be a match. Vernon is a 25-year-old who has 29 sacks over four seasons with the Dolphins, including a career-best 11.5 in 2013. Vernon hasn't matched that production the past two years, totalling 14 sacks, 7.5 in 2015.
Pro Football Focus rates Vernon as the No. 2 edge defender slated to be a free agent, behind only Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and ahead of Pierre-Paul (No.3) and Ayers (No. 4). PFF says:
A remarkable end to the season from Vernon saw him rack up more hits (30) than in the first three years of his career combined (24). When the Dolphins lost Cameron Wake for the season, Vernon rose to the task of being Miami's lead pass rusher and earned himself of a lot of money in the process. From Week 8 onwards (when the Dolphins lost Wake) Vernon racked up 64 total pressures, more than any other defender over that period; not even Aaron Donald (58), J.J. Watt (57), or Khalil Mack (55) could match Vernon's production over that spell. A massive leap in a contract year will always cause some people to pause, but Vernon has had similar, albeit shorter, spells of explosive production in each of the last two seasons. With Wake and Suh already under contract, can the Dolphins afford to invest further in the defensive line? Can they afford to let Vernon walk?
Life with Pierre-Paul has always seemed complicated for the Giants, and the decision of whether to move on from Pierre-Paul -- and possibly Ayers -- and aim to sign a free agent like Vernon is also complicated. Miami Herald Dolphins beat writer Armando Salguero writes that Vernon is "going to land in the $14-$15 million per year range" in terms of average annual salary on the open market. That's far more than the Calculated Market Value Spotrac expects.
Calculated: 5 years $48.1M ($9.6M AAV)
Likely: 5 years, $60M ($12M AAV)
Vernon had a fantastic 2015, posting 10 sacks, 41 hurries, 50 stops, and 48 solo tackles - stats good enough to rank him 1st among 4-3 defensive ends on Pro Football Focus. The timely peak in production soared his calculated market value more than $2M, up to nearly $10M per year. His past two year stats align him somewhere in between Cameron Jordan ($11M AAV), and Everson Griffen ($8.5M AAV), so the $10M mark appears to be a floor for him heading into negotiations. It's possible a $12M AAV deal is in his near future. View the calculated projection here.
Either number, though, is a lot of money and would put Vernon in the top six defensive ends in terms of average annual contract value.
Vernon or Pierre-Paul?
I have repeatedly said that Pierre-Paul is not a player in whom the Giants can make a significant long-term, big-money investment. Is Vernon a player worthy of such an investment?
Vernon is 25, healthy, has 25.5 sacks over the past three seasons and would appear to still have some upside. Pierre-Paul is 27, has a permanently damaged hand, a surgically-repaired back and just 15.5 sacks over the past three seasons. Granted, the games Pierre-Paul missed skew the equation but that is part of the point. JPP has played only 30 of 48 possible games the past three seasons while Vernon has not missed a game.
Vernon would appear to be the much better bet.
The Giants, of course, wouldn't be Vernon's only suitor on the open market. Thus, there is no guarantee the Giants can get him even if they go all in to try. Think of the pursuit of Devin McCourty a year ago. Sometimes, you don't get your man.
Getting Vernon, though, would be a huge addition to a Giants' defense that simply didn't have enough playmakers last season. Whether the Giants could sign Vernon and keep Ayers is a question I don't have an answer to.
If, however, the Giants could do that the group of Vernon, Ayers, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and perhaps a draft choice would be a nice way to try to revamp the defensive end position for 2016.