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Who is Olivier Vernon? Meet the Cleveland Browns' new Pro Bowl pass-rusher

On Friday, the Cleveland Browns reportedly agreed to trade guard Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants in exchange for Pro Bowl edge rusher Olivier Vernon.

The NFL's new league year doesn't begin until next Wednesday.

Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey wasn't willing to wait that long to address one of his team's biggest needs.

Although it can't be made official until next week, the Browns made a splash on Friday when they reportedly traded right guard Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants. In return, Cleveland will receive Pro Bowl edge rusher Olivier Vernon, who will likely start at defensive end across from Myles Garrett in new Cleveland defensive coordinator Steve Wilks' 4-3 defense.

The Browns will also swap their 2019 fifth-round pick (155 overall) with the Giants' fourth-round selection (132 overall) as a part of the deal.

In Vernon, Cleveland adds a player who has made a habit of pressuring opposing quarterbacks throughout his seven-year career and could prove to be a core piece of the team's defense for years to come.

How exactly did one of the league's most promising pass-rushers make his way to the Browns? Let's take a look.

Hometown hero

Born and raised in Miami, Fla., Vernon ranked as the nation's No. 170 overall prospect and No. 8 weakside defensive end in the 2009 class coming out of American High School according to 247Sports. Despite receiving offers from Alabama, Florida and Florida State, Vernon opted to stay close to home, committing to the University of Miami.

He'd be around a while.

After tallying 81 tackles, 20.5 of which came for a loss and 9.0 sacks over three seasons, Vernon -- who had been suspended for six games in 2011 after an investigation showed he accepted impermissible benefits during the recruitment process -- opted to forego his senior season of eligibility, declaring for the 2012 NFL Draft. 

Although there were questions concerning his experience and what position he'd play at the next level, Vernon was selected by his hometown team, the Miami Dolphins, in the third round with the draft's 72nd overall pick.

Credit: AP
Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon (50) sacks Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) during the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Breakout year

Although he primarily played in a reserve role on a crowded Miami defensive line, Vernon still managed to tally 3.5 sacks and 9 QB hits in his rookie season. The following year, he enjoyed a true breakout campaign, earning a starting role opposite Cameron Wake before recording 57 tackles, 13 of which came for a loss, 11.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits.

Over the course of the next two years, the Hialeah native became a mainstay of the Dolphins defense, starting in all 46 of the team's 48 games from 2013-15.

Yet despite Vernon ranking as Pro Football Focus' No. 3 overall edge rusher in 2015 -- he totaled 7.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and an astonishing 36 QB pressures -- Miami opted to let him walk in free agency the following offseason. On March 9, 2016, Vernon agreed to a 5-year, $85 million deal with the New York Giants that included $52.5 million in guaranteed money.

New York, New York

If there was any fear Vernon would treat his new contract like a destination and not a starting point, it was quickly put to rest.

In his first season with the Giants, the former Hurricane posted 8.5 sacks -- the second highest total of his career -- and 23 QB hits en route to earning second-team All-Pro honors. The following season, his production remained steady (6.5 sacks), despite an ankle injury limiting him to 12 games.

Vernon's individual success, however, was translating to the rest of his team. Midway through what was ultimately a 3-13 season in 2017, the Giants fired head coach Ben McAdoo, replacing him with head coach Pat Shurmur at season's end.

The arrival of Shurmur brought a new defensive coordinator to New York in James Bettcher and with that, a new defensive scheme. For the first time in his career, the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Vernon was asked to stand up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

Despite missing the first five weeks of the season with an ankle injury, Vernon went on to tally a team highs of 7.0 sacks and 21 QB hits. Initially named an alternate, he was selected to the first Pro Bowl of his seven-year career while ranking as the NFL's No. 14 edge rusher per Pro Football Focus.

Credit: AP
New York Giants' Olivier Vernon, top, tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Dawg Pound bound

Although he had seemingly lived up to his high priced contract, it became increasingly clear throughout the lead up to the 2019 offseason that the Giants would look to move on from Vernon, who still had two years and $31 million remaining on his deal.

On Friday, the Giants did just that.

Although the Browns can't officially comment on the trade until next week, Vernon certainly fits the mold of players Cleveland GM John Dorsey has targeted throughout his first year-plus with the team. The 28-year-old isn't only productive, but an analytics darling, whose contract, while sizeable, fits the Browns' window newfound win-now mentality.

Only time will tell if Vernon matches the hype. But through the first seven seasons of his career, you'd be hard pressed to find a time he hasn't.

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