When the Browns reached an agreement to trade for Olivier Vernon on March 8, the veteran defensive end had no idea General Manager John Dorsey would pull off an NFL-rocking blockbuster deal just four days later.

But, of course, that's exactly what happened.

After striking a deal to send right guard Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants for Vernon, Dorsey agreed March 12 to trade draft picks in the first (No. 17 overall) and third (No. 95) rounds and strong safety Jabrill Peppers to the Giants for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Last month, Giants GM Dave Gettleman selected former Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence at No. 17 and former Old Dominion defensive end Oshane Ximines at No. 95.

Learning Beckham would follow him from the Giants to the Browns got Vernon fired up.

"I'm not going to lie to you, yeah," Vernon said Wednesday after the second practice of organized team activities, when he addressed media for the first time since he was traded. "When they did say [Beckham] was coming over here, I thought, 'OK. All right. I see they got a plan.' "

Although Beckham dominates the headlines, Vernon is an important piece of Dorsey's strategy.

"I spoke to [Dorsey] a few times, and I just like what I heard from him as far as his vision and what he's trying to do," Vernon said. "It's been a lot of rough years for the Browns, so it can only last so long. The plan is set up. We've just got to execute it.

"I know what I bring to the table. You know? They say you're going to get what you pay for. So you're going to get what you traded for, and I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be embraced by this organization. They want me here, and I'm just ready to get it rolling."

The Browns believe Vernon will give them a fixture in the starting lineup and an ideal complement to Pro Bowl defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017 who ranked seventh in the league last season with 13.5 sacks.

ProFootballFocus.com graded Garrett as the 12th-best edge defender last season, Vernon as the 13th. PFF gave Garrett the sixth-highest pass-rushing grade among edge players. Vernon tied for seventh.

"The more good football players you put around Myles, the better he's going to be," coach Freddie Kitchens said.

In Garrett's first two NFL seasons, he didn't have an accomplished, experienced D-end to lean on like Vernon, who's known as a stout run defender and has 51 sacks in seven seasons, four with the Miami Dolphins, the past three with the Giants.

"Myles is kind of quiet," Vernon said. "You have to kind of pull teeth with him a little bit, but he's a good kid. He had a lot of great things he did last year. It's a great opportunity for a lot of us guys to be able to play together and see how it pans out."

Vernon, 6-foot-2 and 262 pounds, admitted he feels "a little weird" about being the elder statesman on the defensive line because it's a first for him. He'll turn 29 on Oct. 7. Defensive tackle and key free-agent acquisition Sheldon Richardson will turn 29 on Nov. 29.

"I don’t even look at it as a leadership role. I just look at is as, man, a young guy wants to come ask questions, man, I’ve got answers for you, and that’s basically what it is, man," Vernon said. "You want to see some of the young cats get better, man. I know when I was in that position, it’s all I wanted. So now if I could just do that for the young guys — Sheldon’s doing the same thing — it’s going to get everybody better."

Kitchens is calling Vernon a leader, even if he's reluctant to see it the same way.

"Olivier is exactly what we thought he was," Kitchens said. "He takes control on the field, takes control in the locker room and he's the leader of the team. We just need to continue to mesh people like that and see where we are."

Where Vernon found himself last season was in unfamiliar territory, playing outside linebacker when the Giants switched to a 3-4 base defense. He conceded he's happy to revert to 4-3 defensive end, the position he had played his entire career until 2018.

Despite the change, Vernon had seven sacks in 11 games last season. He missed the first five games with a high-ankle sprain but bounced back well enough to make the Pro Bowl after being voted a first alternate.

He hasn't had double-digit sacks in a season since he posted 11.5 in 2013 with the Dolphins, who drafted him the previous year in the third round (72nd overall) out of the University of Miami. Yet playing opposite Garrett could create more opportunities.

"Listen, I just want double-digit wins, to be honest with you," Vernon said. "That's all I want."

It's been a long time since the Browns could set 10 or more wins as a realistic goal, but Vernon has joined a team on the rise.

He signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the Giants as an unrestricted free agent in 2016 and went 11-5 with them before losing in the wild-card round to finish his first season in the Big Apple. After going 3-13 and 5-11 with the Giants the past two seasons, Vernon said he's happy where he has landed as a result of being traded.

"It’s a business, so nothing really surprised me," said Vernon, who's due $15.5 million in each of the two remaining seasons on his deal. "I've just got to find a place to stay. That’s it. I like warm colors anyway, like brown, orange."

With Dorsey implementing his plan, what's not to like? A starting defensive line composed of Vernon, Garrett, Richardson and nose tackle Larry Ogunjobi figures to play a large part.

"I mean, shoot, whatever we put into it is what we’re going to get out of it," Vernon said. "So we’ve got great talent, but talent isn't everything, man. We’ve just got to handle our business and do what we’ve got to do.

"Everybody just plays off each other, man. You’re as good as your teammates, you know. If the teammates are getting the job done and you’re doing your job at the same time, everybody’s going to prosper."

 

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.