The good times are here for Olivier Vernon, who enters 2016 as one of the highest-paid NFL players — and the top dog among pro-level Hurricanes.
Vernon, 25, signed a bank-breaking contract with the New York Giants in March: $85 million over five years, with $52.5 million guaranteed. That’s the largest contract in NFL history for a defensive end.
Not bad for a former third-round pick in 2012, who had a brief and frustrating UM career.
Vernon, from Hialeah-American High, started 18 of 30 games and recorded nine sacks and 81 tackles. As a junior he was suspended six games for accepting so-called illegal benefits from ex-booster Nevin Shapiro. He repaid the NCAA $1,200 for doing so.
In his three seasons, UM went 22-16, suffered two bowl losses, fired Randy Shannon and hired Al Golden.
His NFL career has been more fruitful.
The former combine standout had 11.5 sacks with the Dolphins in 2013 and blew up in the second half of 2015. According to Pro Football Focus, Vernon totaled 57 pressures and 33 defensive stops over the final eight games, “better [than] many starters over the entire year. Vernon was practically unstoppable [in] the second half,” the website wrote. He had 7.5 sacks last year and led the NFL with 30 quarterback hits.
PFF ranked Vernon its No. 21 player in the league, after leaving him off the list in 2015. “There may have been no better player in football over the final eight games of the season than Olivier Vernon, and had he played sixteen games at that level, we would likely be looking at the No. 1 player on this list,” PFF wrote. “The fact that he ranks this high shows just how obscene those eight games were.” He was playing that well despite drawing constant double-teams with fellow defensive end Cameron Wake injured.
The Dolphins signed Mario Williams, five years older than Vernon, to a more cost-effective deal than Vernon’s (two years, $17 million), but Vernon is a star on the rise. He’s our top NFL Cane of 2016.
Honorable mention: Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons; recorded 1,104 yards, seven touchdowns on 77 catches in 2015), Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns (1,031 yards, 10 touchdowns on 64 catches), Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (879 yards, eight touchdowns on 194 carries), San Diego Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman (PFF’s No. 7 inside linebacker), Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson (965 total yards, two touchdowns on 167 touches).