Giants gambling on Olivier Vernon's contract-year surge
The Deal: The Giants signed Vernon on a five-year deal worth $85 million, with $52.5 million of that guaranteed, according to Ian Rapoport.
What it means for the Giants: The Giants have taken an aggressive approach to the start free agency, and in turn are setting themselves up to have one of the most aggressive defenses in the NFL. After going all-in on Janoris Jenkins earlier today, the Giants needed to add the pressure to back up two cornerbacks (Jenkins, along with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) who love to go after the football, and Vernon—at his best—provides just that. The quartet of Vernon, JPP, Johnathan Hankins, and fellow free-agent signee Damon Harrison provides the Giants with a formidable defensive line, but at a hefty price for their newest additions. Vernon was the highest-graded edge defender over the second half of the season, racking up 64 pressures (nine sacks, 26 hits, 29 hurries) from Week 8 onwards, with his 40 defensive stops in that span also the most for any edge defender (only Khalil Mack was within 10 of his total for that 10-week span).
The question mark over this move is twofold for the Giants. First, the cost is astronomical; they have given Vernon more guaranteed money on a shorter contract than J.J. Watt received from the Texans. Secondly, Vernon’s explosion in production and performance came in an eight-week spell right at the end of his rookie deal. It was not sporadic, and he did damage against some quality tackles (Tyron Smith included), but the Giants have taken a big gamble that this was the start of Olivier Vernon’s emergence as an elite defensive player, and not an eight-week streak for a team that was coasting to the end of the season after firing their head coach.
What it means for the Dolphins: The Dolphins took their stance on Vernon in the last 24 hours by signing Mario Williams after he was cut by the Bills, and rescinding Vernon’s transition tag. The eight games that Vernon produced to finish the regular season this year are better than any stretch that Williams has ever recorded, but Miami clearly felt that another monster contract on their defensive line was too heavy of an investment for one position group. They will gamble that Williams can rebound from a dreadful season in Buffalo under Rex Ryan and get back to his consistent performances from prior seasons.