In a rare transaction involving marquee players, the Giants on Friday took a major step forward in improving their offensive line and providing a secure pocket and protection for Eli Manning. Nothing comes without a price, and, yet again, their needy defense took a hit.
The Giants accomplished what many believed they would be unable to do: Unload pricey outside linebacker Olivier Vernon and bring back a worthwhile return prior to NFL free agency.
As it turns out, the Giants not only found a trade partner, they also found a key piece for their offensive line. The Giants, a source confirmed to The Post, will ship Vernon to the Browns in exchange for Kevin Zeitler, a sturdy and dependable player who will instantly move in as their starting right guard.
The teams are also swapping draft picks. The Giants will sent a fourth-round pick (132nd overall) in the 2019 NFL draft to the Browns in exchange for a fifth-round pick (155th overall).
The trade cannot be made official until Wednesday, the start of the new league year.
Kevin Zeitler an instant upgrade to Giants' weak offensive line
Kevin Zeitler received a big surprise for his birthday. Shortly…
Zeitler, who turned 29 on Friday, was a 2012 first-round pick of the Bengals out of Wisconsin. In his five years in Cincinnati and his two seasons in Cleveland, he was a reliable and capable performer. He started 103 of his 104 NFL games and did not miss a game the past four years. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Zeitler in 2018 was graded by Pro Football Focus as the league’s No. 6 guard and the No. 1 pass-blocking guard.
This move also saves the Giants money. Zeitler is heading into the third year of a five-year, $60 million contract — at the time making him the highest-paid guard in NFL history — and is set to make $10 million this season and also count $10 million on the salary cap.
Vernon, signed by former Giants general manager Jerry Reese in 2016 to a five-year, $85 million mega-deal, was scheduled to count $19.5 million on the 2019 salary cap. The Giants must absorb $8 million in dead money on the cap this year but will save $11.5 million by jettisoning Vernon from their roster. So the Giants end up saving $1.5 million on this year’s cap after adding Zeitler’s contract.
Consider this the second phase of the offensive-line rebuild after last year’s signing of left tackle Nate Solder and selection of left guard Will Hernandez in the second round of the draft.
The Giants on Friday made official the re-signing of center Jon Halapio, an exclusive rights free agent, who played quite well starting the first two games last season before fracturing an ankle and landing on injured reserve.
The addition of Zeitler means the Giants are building a wall in front of Manning, with one more starting spot to fill on their offensive line. They want to find a new right tackle to replace Chad Wheeler.
The addition of Jamon Brown as the starting right guard at midseason helped improve the run-blocking. As an unrestricted free agent, he was considered an option to return but the arrival of Zeitler ends that scenario.
The next steps to salvage Giants offseason after Olivier Vernon trade
Dave Gettleman got off the canvas following the Landon Collins…
Why would the Browns ship out a productive offensive lineman? They have a load of cap space, have Austin Corbett, a 2018 second-round pick, waiting in the wings to step in for Zeitler and now add Vernon to an increasingly formidable defense, with Myles Garrett lining up on the opposite side of the defensive line from Vernon.
A few days after Giants general manager Dave Gettleman made the unpopular decision to move on from safety Landon Collins by not securing him with a franchise tag, an important piece to the offensive line was added, although another starting player was removed from the defense.
Vernon, 28, was a polarizing player in his three years with the Giants, as he could not live up to the mammoth contract he signed after four years with the Dolphins. He had 8.5 sacks and 6.5 sacks in his first two seasons, missing four games in 2017 with a sprained ankle.
Vernon needed a strong finish to lead the team in sacks in 2018, with only seven, after missing the first five games with a high ankle sprain. He did not seem to be a perfect fit moving to an outside linebacker spot in defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s system. Still, he was a forceful presence on a defense severely lacking in many areas.
Without Vernon, there is no proven pass-rusher on the roster. B.J. Hill (5.5 sacks) and Lorenzo Carter (four sacks) as rookies in 2018 were the next-best producers of pressure behind Vernon. It might be difficult for the Giants to pass up taking a pass-rusher with the No. 6 pick in the draft next month.