The Cleveland Browns have some big decisions to make this offseason, especially on the defensive side of the ball, which became a glaring weakness late in the season.
The Browns have a handful of upcoming free agents on defense, but one of the more notable names is veteran defensive end Olivier Vernon.
Vernon’s future in Cleveland has been a question since last offseason, when the team openly courted former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to play opposite of Myles Garrett. That never manifested, and instead, Vernon restructured his contract before the season, making sure he could become a free agent after the year was over.
Browns GM Andrew Berry Heartbroken for Olivier Vernon
Vernon looked due for a payday in free agency thanks to a stellar second half of the season, notching 9 sacks — the second highest total of his career. However, a ruptured Achillies he suffered in Week 17 might make some teams weary on inking the 30-year-old and it’s something the Browns will have to weigh as well.
“I had a good conversation with OV actually just yesterday,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry told reporters on Wednesday. “I am heartbroken for him because he did play so well down the stretch and then did not get a chance to enjoy the playoffs with us at Pittsburgh and at Kansas City.”
#Browns GM Andrew Berry said he talked to Olivier Vernon yesterday, heartbroken for him b/c didn't get to play in postseason after suffering ruptured Achilles, added we'll see how it goes when asked whether they would consider re-signing him upon comeback
— Nate Ulrich (@ByNateUlrich) January 20, 2021
Berry remained vague if the team would consider bringing Vernon back next season, going to his canned answer.
“You want to retain as many good players as possible. In some situations, it ends up being the right fit, and in other situations, it does not,” Berry said. “At the same time, that is something that we have the next several weeks to work through. We really do our best to maintain transparency and communication with all of the guys who have contracts expiring. We will continue to do that and work through those as more of the economic unknowns become known as we get into February and March.”
Defense Will Be Primary Concern for Browns in Offseason
The Browns spent last offseason building up the offense, assembling a stellar offensive line and giving quarterback Baker Mayfield more weapons around him. But the defense will need some attention this offseason, even with players like safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Greedy Williams expected to return.
“I think it is a fair observation to realize that the resources this past year that we had going into this past fall were predominantly oriented to support the offense and support the quarterback, but that does not mean that we did not make some investments all across the team,” Berry told reporters. “We can have improvement anywhere. Understand that obviously we think we can certainly boost the defense as we go into 2021.”
#Browns GM Andrew Berry: "I think it's a fair observation to say that the resources this past offseason were primarily to the offense…we can have improvement anywhere. Obviously, we think we can boost the defense"
— Keith Britton (@KeithBritton86) January 20, 2021
Along with Vernon, WR Rashard Higgins, DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Terrance Mitchell and LB B.J. Goodson are all key contributors who will become free agents this offseason.