Olivier Vernon, like many defensive linemen of his generation, grew up watching the Giants. During his formative football years, they had dominant pass rushers, with Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck leading the team to Super Bowl titles.
So to see the Giants struggle on defense, finish near the bottom of almost every category and wind up with another losing record last season was somewhat painful for Vernon — even while he played for the Dolphins.
“That’s not Giants standards right there,” he said of the forgettable 2015 season. “From what I remember, they’ve always been stout on defense.”
Now Vernon has a chance to make a firsthand contribution to the team’s return to past performance. The defensive end signed his market-shattering five-year, $85-million contract with the Giants yesterday as part of a free-agency overhaul aimed at resuscitating the defense and bringing the franchise back to its past glories.
The Giants also officially signed cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, giving them three players for whom they doled out a combined $114 million in guaranteed money in the opening hours of free agency. This a day after they re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul for one year.
“The Giants, they’re trying to win,” Vernon said. “They’re trying to win and get the defense right. I remember last year, it wasn’t what it was expected to be. That’s not the standards of the Giants’ defense. That’s not the Giants’ way.”
Nor is throwing obscene amounts of money at free agents, but this offseason the Giants have a remarkable amount of salary-cap space and the urgency to revamp their roster after four years of missing the playoffs.
“We went into free agency hoping to find help to improve our defense,” general manager Jerry Reese said through the team’s website. “We believe signing JPP, Snacks, J.J. and Olivier Vernon gives us a good start in that direction.”
The Giants also found a player to tell them where to go on the field. They agreed to terms with Keenan Robinson, who spent the past four seasons with Washington, according to a source. He projects to be their starting middle linebacker.
Vernon said he wanted to sign with the Giants long before their offer reached historic proportions. He said he spoke with several current and former Giants players, including fellow South Florida native Pierre-Paul and fellow University of Miami product Antrel Rolle.
“All he did was praise the organization and pretty much say how he’s trying to win and get back to being relevant,” Vernon said. “So I could just tell by how he spoke that he was a man that wanted to get there, and I just wanted to be a part of that.”
Cruz: Giants were ‘fair.’ Wide receiver Victor Cruz said he thought the Giants were “fair” in negotiating a massive pay cut with him that allowed him to remain with the team. Ultimately, it was the last part that he coveted the most. “I wanted to stay here,” Cruz said on WFAN yesterday. “This is where I belonged. This is where I made a name for myself.”
Cruz’s base salary reportedly was sliced from $7.9 million to $1.3 million, but he will have the ability to make some of that back in incentives. He said he is healthy enough to do that.
“The calf is back to a hundred percent, the knee is good,” he said. “So I’m just working on building the strength back in both of my legs . . . ”