INDIANAPOLIS — The bulk of the bill is coming due on the $85 million contract the Giants gave Olivier Vernon three years ago, and now it seems they want someone else to pay it.
The Giants are exploring opportunities to trade the linebacker, according to the NFL Network. He is due to earn a base salary of $15.25 million in 2019 and count $19.5 million against the salary cap this season.
Although they are unlikely to find a partner willing to take on that financial burden, the trade talks could be a precursor to cutting him before the start of the new league year on March 11.
The Giants would rather get value in return for Vernon rather than cut ties with him. Either way, they’re on the hook for $8 million in dead money if he is not a Giant in the 2019 season.
Such a move would free up some capital as the team heads into free agency and considers using the franchise tag on safety Landon Collins. The cap savings from trading or cutting Vernon would be just about equal to the value of the tag on Collins.
Parting ways with Vernon, who led the team with seven sacks in 2018 and played in the Pro Bowl for the first time, would be the latest maneuver by the Giants’ front office to shed players brought in by the previous regime. In 2016, the Giants splurged $200 million to acquire Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins and used their first-round pick to select Eli Apple. Harrison and Apple were traded in the middle of last season.
The $19.5 million cap hit in 2019 would be the highest annual number of the five in the Vernon contract. His cap numbers in the first three years of the deal were $13 million, $16 million and $17 million. The final two years of the contract include $30.5 million of the $56.75 million total in base salary.
Moving on from Vernon would leave the Giants without a bona fide pass rusher on the roster. But if they could trade him as part of a package to move up and acquire one of the premier edge rushers in the upcoming draft, that might solve two problems.
The Giants still would have plenty of others — such as quarterback and offensive line — but they would acquire a desperately needed defensive playmaker. They also could dangle Vernon as part of a trade package for Cardinals second-year quarterback Josh Rosen if that team is intent on drafting Kyler Murray in April. All of that is speculation, though. The most likely conclusion would seem to be the Giants cutting Vernon.
A year ago, the Giants traded pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul to the Bucs and used that pick to select starting defensive tackle B.J. Hill. The Giants do not have a third-round pick in this draft, something general manager Dave Gettleman wants to remedy.
In three seasons with the Giants, Vernon has played in 39 of 48 regular-season games and recorded 22 sacks. He spent most of the 2018 season hampered by an ankle injury. Six of his seven sacks came in December, and 2 1⁄2 of those came in the final game of the season.