Olivier Vernon’s salary-cap hit of $17 million this season is higher than that of anyone on the Giants, other than Eli Manning.
The Giants certainly haven’t received much bang for those bucks from their $85 million edge rusher during another team-wide disappointment in 2018, making it a strong possibility the organization could move on from Vernon after the season ends.
With just one sack this season entering Sunday’s game against Chicago, Vernon insists his contract status and future are the last things on his mind.
“No, right now, it’s [about] the Bears, man, and whatever happens, happens,” Vernon said after practice Friday. “All I can do is just focus on what I’ve got to do.”
Even after missing the first five games this season with a high ankle sprain, Vernon hasn’t made much of an impact since shifting from defensive end to outside linebacker in the team’s revamped 3-4 scheme under first-year head coach Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator James Bettcher.
In addition to his one sack (Week 6 against the Eagles) in six appearances, Vernon only has registered 10 combined tackles without a forced fumble or an interception.
As Shurmur admitted earlier in the week, he doesn’t “teams aren’t spending extra resources to block [Vernon],” meaning he isn’t even regularly seeing double teams from opposing offenses in recent games.
“He’s just like every player on our team, just keep battling, keep playing to make a difference,” Shurmur said Friday. “He can be a disruptive force, we all know that. I mentioned this, that he got kind of a late start this year. He missed [five] games because of the injury.
“He’s been out there playing and battling and making plays, he just has to continue to play. I think that’s the focus for all players. He’s a valued member of our team and he’s gonna keep playing.”
But will these be the final five games he plays for the Giants? The 28-year-old Vernon is owed $30 million over the next two seasons, and cutting him would save more than $11.5 million on next year’s cap.
He appeared primed for a big year with an impressive preseason after making the position switch, before the ankle injury cost him the first third of the year.
“You never really want to miss time when you’re out there, you work hard before every season coming up,” Vernon said. “It was just one little bump in the road, and all I can do right now is just the normal game plan and be out there for my team and make the plays that come to me.”
Asked if he’s completely healthy or whether he rushed back from the injury, Vernon added: “I feel good. If I’m out there, I’m out there, that’s basically it. The main thing was just being out in the beginning of the season, it was just getting your legs back, get back into conditioning shape, but I’m fine.”
Collectively, the Giants’ defensive front consistently has failed to get to opposing quarterbacks throughout the team’s 3-8 start, ranking second-to-last in the NFL with 12 sacks.
By contrast, former Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul nearly has matched that total by himself with Tampa Bay (10.5), while two other Giants castoffs — linebacker Devon Kennard (6.0) and defensive end Romeo Okwara (5.5) — have teamed up to combine for 11.5 sacks this season with Detroit.
“Guys are working together as far as trying to get back there,” Vernon said of the Giants’ pass rush. “We’re putting pressure on the quarterback, so I don’t feel like that’s really the issue. We’re just not, we ain’t coming down with the sacks. As long as we just keep getting pressure and pressure, the sacks are gonna come.”