Coming off four straight playoff-less seasons and desperate to infuse an embarrassingly bad defense with talent, had the New York Giants lost their collective minds? They were going to give $85 million, $52.5 million of it guaranteed, to defensive end Olivier Vernon to be the center piece of their re-structuring?
The same Olivier Vernon who had one double-digit sack season in four years with the Miami Dolphins? Who had never made a Pro Bowl? Who had never even been the best defensive lineman on his own team? That guy was going to be one the top three highest-paid defensive ends in the NFL?
Yep, sink or swim that was the plan. Pay Vernon and hope that Jason Pierre-Paul still had enough left to revitalize a pass rush that had been mostly missing in action the previous season.
Free agent plans often sink, but this one worked out swimmingly, with Vernon more than doing his part in his first year with the Giants. Let’s take a closer look as we near the conclusion of our series of player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.
2016 Season In Review
The raw numbers:
- Tackles (64, a career-high, including 46 solo)
- A team-high 17 tackles for loss
- Sacks (8.5, a team high)
- Hurries (37, second in the NFL)
- Snaps played (1,040, 93.69 percent — most in the league among defensive ends)
Vernon was everything the Giants could have hoped for. He didn’t put up gaudy sack numbers — that’s simply not his game. Where ex-Giant Osi Umenyiora generally only impacted games by getting to quarterbacks, Vernon does it in a variety of ways. He is an impact pass rusher, even if he doesn’t get home as often as might be ideal. He is an excellent run defender, adept at coming down the line of scrimmage to make plays. He rarely comes off the field. He’s a leader on the practice field and a quiet, unassuming player in the locker room who does not seek attention.
2017 Season Outlook
The 6-foot-2, 275-pound Vernon is still only 26 years old. When the Giants signed him, GM Jerry Reese said he thought Vernon’s best football was still ahead of him:
“Vernon is a young pass rusher with all the tools,” Reese said at the time. “We believe he’s right at the beginning of him prime.”
As well as Vernon played in 2016, it looks like Reese was right about that.
Can Vernon be even better in 2017? There are several reasons to think he can.
- He played much of the 2016 season with a damaged hand. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo admitted during the season that the hand was an issue, and Vernon spent several games at left defensive end — where he had never been before — to cover for the injury.
- Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP played 12 games last season and Vernon was better with him than without him. Of Vernon’s 8.5 sacks, only one came after Pierre-Paul went down with a season-ending injury. JPP’s presence makes it harder for teams to roll extra blockers at Vernon.
- Added depth, hopefully. If Romeo Okwara continues to ascend, and Devin Taylor and Avery Moss can contribute, Vernon should be able to get a bit more rest. That should, theoretically, help him be better on the snaps he does play.
All in all, no reason to expect anything less than another excellent season from Vernon.