Why Jaguars, Raiders should offer Olivier Vernon serious money
The Miami Dolphins have placed the transition tag on DE Olivier Vernon, as it became clear the two sides would not be able to reach a long-term agreement in time for Tuesday’s deadline to tag players. The choice of using the transition tag is an interesting case, because it now allows other teams to offer Vernon a contract, which the Dolphins would have seven days to match.
While the one-year salary of the transition tag saves about $2.7 million from a franchise tag, it opens up a real possibility of not retaining the prized defensive end, and also for an Alex Mack-type contract that gives the player a lot of power.
The advantage of using the transition tag goes beyond the $2.7 million in savings. While Miami is strapped for cash in 2016, with just $8.9 million in cap space, it allows the Dolphins to see what Vernon’s true value is on the free agent market. As Sam Monson discussed earlier today, Vernon’s monstrous second half of 2016 is a big question mark. His level of play was similar to what we saw from Von Miller in the playoffs, but for essentially eight straight games. Can he sustain that level of success, or is he closer to the level of play similar to Jerry Hughes—a good player that can perform at an elite level for a game here and there.
The disadvantage of the transition tag is that they now have no way of controlling the type of contract Vernon will have. While the Dolphins probably won’t compete for a Super Bowl in 2016, replacing Vernon would be difficult this offseason. The draft is weak in edge defenders, and the Dolphins don’t have the cap space to pursue another free agent edge rusher. By not paying an extra $2.7 million, Miami is highly likely to lose Vernon this year, based on the small amount of cap space they have to work with.
The Jaguars and Raiders are two teams that should pursue signing Vernon. The Jaguars have the most cap space in the NFL, and would easily be able to work out a deal that would make it impossible for Miami to match. While they will see Dante Fowler return from a torn ACL that sidelined him for his rookie season, he is still an unknown commodity. The Jaguars had just three front-seven players grade positively in pass rushing, with LB Telvin Smith being the only starter to do so.
The Raiders are a team that have been on the right track with GM Reggie McKenzie running the team. He’s building through the draft while picking solid pieces in free agency. With Vernon pairing with Khalil Mack, the Raiders’ defense would be devastating on opposing offenses, akin to what the Broncos deploy in Miller and DeMarcus Ware. With $74.5 million in cap space, they also can write up a contract offer that would deter Miami from matching.
While there are several teams that could benefit from pursuing Vernon, it’s clear that Miami will need to work some magic with their cap space if they hope to match an offer that Vernon receives. GM Chris Grier is taking a big risk allowing Vernon to pursue other options after his 2015 campaign showcased his talents as a top-tier pass rusher. Time will tell if saving $2.7 million was worth the risk.