The highlight of the NFL Scouting Combine is always the prospects on the field. This weekend is for them to show what they can do for the NFL, and the entire NFL world gathers in Indianapolis to watch them do it.
But any time you get that many NFL people together news gets made, and it's often only tangentially related to the NFL Draft.
The first tidbit we got was that the New York Giants were exploring trade options for Olivier Vernon, and if they couldn't find one to their liking, they would cut him for the cap relief.
It has been long suspected that Vernon might be a cap casualty as the Giants seek to navigate the continued rebuilding of their roster with limited cap space, the move to trade him for a draft pick (or cut him outright) would create more problems than it solves.
While it could certainly be argued that Vernon is not worth every penny of the $39 million he is owed over the remaining two years of his contract, the argument is from an “availability” perspective, and not an “ability” one. Vernon has missed nine games over the last two seasons, but when on the field he has been one of the best in the league at pressuring quarterbacks. And while that pressure doesn’t show up in the box score, it does impact quarterbacks and disrupt offenses.
As our own Dan Pizzuta pointed out, the problem with the Giants’ pass rush isn’t with the pass rushers on the field in 2018, but rather with their depleted secondary. Not only did the Giants’ secondary not give pass rushers the time to get to quarterbacks, they were unable to capitalize when pressure was applied.
There is also the fact that without Olivier Vernon on the field in the first five games, the Giants’ bad pass rush was virtually non-existent. Over those games, the Giants only managed to collect six sacks and half of them came in Week 3 against the Houston Texans and the worst pass protecting offensive line in the NFL (62 sacks given up, 32nd in adjusted sack rate per Football Outsiders)
Part of the rationale for trading Vernon is that this is a very talented draft class for EDGE rushers, but given the realities of the NFL, moving on from Vernon would likely lock the Giants in to having to spend the sixth overall pick on a pass rusher to keep from taking a step back on defense. The position is among the most coveted in the NFL, which results in the massive free agent contracts, and the fact that if a team wants a good one in the draft, they have to use their first round pick on them. Athleticism is essential to being a consistently effective pass rusher in the NFL, and athletes are drafted early. It is unlikely at best that a rusher who could even replace Vernon lasts to the second round. They might be able to find a player like Boston College’s Zach Allen at that point. But he is a pure defensive lineman and, like Vernon, best at creating pressure but doesn’t have the dynamic athleticism to be a sack artist in the NFL. That would, at the most optimistic, be a lateral move at best.
And if the Giants are locked in to drafting a pass rusher at sixth overall, they might also be locking themselves into having no starting quarterback in 2020 (or expending more assets to reach for a bad option out of desperation).
Dave Gettleman, and Giants fans, might be itching to get back into the third round after spending the pick to acquire Sam Beal in the supplementary draft, as well as creating cap space for 2019. And at this point it seems unlikely that Vernon will be a Giant in 2019, even if that creates more questions than answers.
Chiefs are placing their franchise tag on LB Dee Ford today and plan to play with him this season, but with the change to a 4-3 defensive scheme, they will listen to trade offers for their franchised player, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 2, 2019
The fact that both Vernon and Ford could be on the trading block presents an opportunity and creative solutions to problems for both franchises.
As Schefter mentions, the Chiefs are switching from Bob Sutton’s 3-4 defense to the scheme run by Steve Spagnuolo. And while Ford is a talented pass rusher, the 6-foot-2, 252-pound outside linebacker isn’t a great fit in Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 Under based defense. And while the Chiefs need to upgrade their defense as a whole, their run defense needs particular attention.
These details are what make trading Vernon for Ford an interesting proposition. Vernon was originally signed by Jerry Reese for Steve Spagnuolo’s defense and would be a natural fit if returned to that scheme. He is a good pass rusher, but offers more in run defense than Ford does. As mentioned before, Vernon carries a $19.5 million cap hit in each of the next two years, but the Chiefs could sign him to an extension and lower that number.
And while James Bettcher’s scheme isn’t vastly different from Spags,’ if he wants to call more plays from a 3-4 look, Ford is a better fit than Vernon. Likewise, Ford is a better speed rusher than Vernon, which is a piece missing from the Giants’ defense and could help them convert more pressures into hits and sacks. By using Vernon to acquire another pass rusher, it would help to prevent a return to the Giants’ non-existent pass rush from the first half of the season (before Vernon returned from injury).
Former NFL agent Joel Corry estimates that a long-term deal for Ford could exceed Justin Houston’s $16.8 million per year ($52.5 million guaranteed) contract. And while that might be a considerable chunk of money, it presents an opportunity to lower the Giants’ cap number if they were to sign Ford to an extension. To do so they could structure the contract such that he has a very low base salary the first year and the larger numbers don’t hit until Eli Manning’s contract is off the books in 2020. With Vernon traded and Manning retired, the Giants would have $96 million with which to work that year (which could be as high as $125 million with a couple other moves) fitting Ford in should be do-able.
There is a question of what else might be needed to execute the trade. Ford had an injury-plagued career (missing 13 tames from 2015 to 2017), and that presents some risk to the Giants. Meanwhile, Vernon hasn’t been as dynamic, but he has been healthier, more consistent, and offers a natural fit and no learning curve for their new scheme. An even swap between players might be possible.
So Giants fans, would you consider a trade of Olivier Vernon for Dee Ford?