Dorsey Made the Right Move Trading Kevin Zeitler for Olivier Vernon
With the struggles of the offensive line against the Pittsburgh Steelers, one topic being revisited is the trade made by the Cleveland Browns that sent guard Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants for Olivier Vernon. While the timing of the deal was problematic as it impacted the Browns more than they would have liked, the move itself was incredibly smart and should pay off in the long run, starting in 2020.
Zeitler was a fantastic guard that did a great job of protecting Baker Mayfield in his rookie year and ensuring he'd have a viable pocket he could step up into, which was a key to their surge the second half of last season. He was also a bull in the running game. Great as a drive blocker, but not someone that could pull or offer much in terms of lateral movement.
That is one of the reasons he was moved. James Campen employs an offensive line that has a lot of movement skills. They love being able to use a wide zone, being able to pull guys and create different ways to get running backs out in space. Zeitler is a down blocking, double teaming to the second level, bulldozer.
The other issue was his contract. He was making over $10 million per year on a team where they were paying every single lineman a bunch of money. From an accounting standpoint, it was going to have to be adjusted to balance out the talent on the roster and paying guys coming off rookie contracts while staying under the salary cap.
It was one step in an evolving process. Moving on from Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard after this season are the next step. They have two premium contracts in Joel Bitonio and the now extended J.C. Tretter who are also premium performers. The rest of the line is ideally going to be made up of rookie contracts while maintaining the ability to sign a free agent if needed. Bryan Bulaga is going to be a discussion that comes up in free agency as an example.
When considering that the Browns were trying to balance out their budget, they found themselves with an opportunity to trade Zeitler and get a fantastic edge player in Olivier Vernon. Vernon was playing incredibly well before he hurt his knee. If the Browns didn't pull the trigger to get Vernon when they did, it's unlikely they were going to get another opportunity to get that much of a return on the trade, potentially being forced to release Zeitler after 2019.
The other part of this is obviously the drafting of Austin Corbett, who was the guy they hoped could be the starting guard in place of Zeitler. It simply didn't work. And that's where the issue really is. Had the Browns drafted Will Hernandez, incidentally the other starting guard for the Giants or Connor Williams, a starting guard for the Dallas Cowboys, who both went after Corbett in the draft, it may have been a more seamless transition.
Neither of those guys was going to step in and be exactly what Zeitler was, but it would've avoided a situation where they were trying to get Corbett to do a job he proved incapable, settling on an underwhelming Eric Kush before maybe finding something in Wyatt Teller now. If they had Teller all of training camp, they might have been able to find their way through this and be in far better position from the start of the season. Teller has been a substantial improvement at right guard since he took over the job.
If in 2020, with a productive offseason and training camp, the Browns have have their answer at right guard, be it Teller or Drew Forbes and have Vernon playing opposite Myles Garrett, giving them that imposing set of edge rushers that were tremendous in stretches in 2019, the trade by John Dorsey will prove to be brilliant. It's certainly a better result than if they kept Zeitler for 2019 and then released him or traded him for far less.
The short term impact was costly, but the long term benefit shows why Dorsey took an offer he couldn't refuse. The problem wasn't the deal he took in trading Zeitler for Vernon, but the pick he made with the 33rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.