The swap of Kevin Zeitler and Olivier Vernon on Friday earned the immediate, mutual stamp of approval from the talking football masses. It’s a player-for-player deal that fits needs on both teams, snugs in comfortably with the salary cap and doesn’t risk and high-end draft capital.
Check, check and check.
Of course, any breakdown of the trade ignoring the motivations behind the swap misses a critical point: The Giants needed this one badly. The Browns did not.
One team is stabbing at the veteran free-agent offensive-line market in a desperate last-minute heave to legitimize their decision to stick with quarterback Eli Manning for another season. One team is shedding unnecessary assets and layering talent.
No general manager is infallible, but outside of the Colts in Indianapolis, has there been a better personnel strategy in the NFL over the last two years than in Cleveland? Teams often struggle to balance the need for players who can help the roster immediately with cost-controlled talent that contributes at a high level. The current Browns regime, while blessed with a stockpile of picks, cap space and tradable assets from a former general manager, has been both systematically aggressive and risk averse (with one glaring exception).
Rosters take on certain feels over the course of their construction; they tell certain stories. The scarring across the Giants’ salary cap comes from years of mismanaged drafts and subsequent high-end spending. A balanced roster can only handle so much stress, which naturally accompanies a team interested in maximizing one final window of competitiveness from their aging quarterback. Instead of drifting from that reality, as teams in similar positions have done over the years, they fought to stabilize. At the moment, the Giants are responsible for paying two of the 11 highest average per year salaries of offensive linemen in the NFL.
In that way, it’s not 100% fair to stack the Browns and Giants head-to-head. Baker Mayfield is on his rookie deal—general managers always look smarter when they’re paying a top-15 starting quarterback $32 million over the next four seasons instead of $21 million for the next one. It helps the mystique surrounding John Dorsey that, on the same day this deal was consummated, the Jaguars cut running back Carlos Hyde, who was shipped to Jacksonville from Cleveland for a fifth-round pick. They have specialized in netting draft capital for little to no up-front investment.
Again, the Browns seem to have an order and answer for everything on their roster. Layers of production. A capable veteran backed up by someone nearly as capable on a rookie deal waiting behind him. It allows them to make these deals because, why not?
So yes, Friday’s deal may end up benefitting both teams in the interim, but is there any question which roster you’d rather have for the next five years? Is there any doubt which path you’d take if you had to rebuild from scratch?
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