Olivier Vernon gives Cleveland Browns offseason flexibility

Olivier Vernon appears to be in the Cleveland Browns plans for 2020, but that could change quickly as Vernon’s non-guaranteed contract provides flexibility.

The future for Cleveland Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon was extremely uncertain immediately following the 2019 season due to his team-leading cap hit for 2020. Making $15.5 million in 2020, it was not expected the Browns new front office would want to pay that salary if Vernon was not providing equal production for the deal.

In his first season with the Browns in 2019, Vernon made 26 total tackles, four tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and one forced fumble in 10 games. Due to being traded to the Browns last offseason, Vernon’s salary is not guaranteed for 2020, meaning the Browns could shed Vernon’s $15.5 million salary without any penalty.

However, as the roster currently sits, Vernon looks to be in position to be on Cleveland’s roster in 2020. That could change quickly, though, as the Browns could still pursue an upgrade at defensive end this offseason.

It was reported on Wednesday by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that the Browns have shown interest in free agent Jadeveon Clowney, but did not come to an agreement. Fowler did say that it is believed the Browns came the closest to the amount of money Clowney wants, which is believed to be at least $17 million per season.

The longer Clowney remains on the free agent market creates the possibility that the Browns will circle back and restart negotiations with the 27-year-old. Although paying Clowney the salary he wants would cut into Cleveland’s needed cap space, Vernon’s contract gives the Browns flexibility.

Unless the Browns land a top-end EDGE defender, such as Clowney or an EDGE in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Browns can keep Vernon and use him in a rotation with recently signed Adrian Clayborn. Although Vernon is the highest paid Brown in 2020, he only has one year remaining on his contract and the Browns will gain $15.5 million in cap space next offseason.

If the Browns decide they want to re-enter negotiations with Clowney and come closer to a deal, they can cut Vernon and roughly take up the same amount of cap space, even with Clowney on the payroll. Since Clowney is looking for around two or three million dollars more than what Vernon is due, adding Clowney would not dramatically impact Cleveland’s cap flexibility this season.

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The Browns may ultimately decide it is better to keep Vernon for one year on his current deal instead of signing Clowney to a multi-year contract worth more. However, Vernon’s contract gives the Browns front office flexibility when it comes to decisions they can make at defensive end.