“I was like, ‘Okay, Miami doesn’t want to let me leave,’” Vernon said. “I was just right up the street. It was a great experience, I’m happy that they selected me and gave me the opportunity from the start. It was a good organization. I loved the people over there. Best teammates I had while having an NFL experience and good coaches.”
Of course, staying close to home enabled family and friends to attend his games without having to board a plane. That, however, became subject to change when Vernon became a free agent after the 2015 season. But prior to the free agency signing period, the Dolphins placed the transition tag on Vernon, giving them the right to match any offer he received. Which, frankly, was fine with him.
“I honestly thought I’d be in Miami for a little while longer,” Vernon said. “Everybody talks about how you’re not going to be on the team for your whole career; I guess I was a little naïve about it.”
“Reality sunk in and at the end of the day, it’s a business,” he said. “They gave me a good opportunity to play for their organization and to get my foot in the door. Now it’s just about taking that next step and playing elsewhere.”
Perhaps unexpectedly, someone very close to Vernon encouraged him to get out of town. Vernon did just that, becoming one of three defensive free agents from other teams to sign this week with the Giants.
“It’s something that I wanted to do as far as have a change of pace,” Vernon said. “My mom (Bernadette), she kind of mentioned it to me as well. She said I should see something different. There’s a whole different world out there, and there isn’t any better place to live than New York for the time being.”
Vernon’s mom wasn’t the only person pushing him north. Jason Pierre-Paul, who re-signed with the team this week and figures to start at the other defensive end, and former Giants safety Antrel Rolle, a fellow U-M alum, also helped convince Vernon the Giants were his best option.
“I spoke to (JPP) and asked him about how everything was over here, as far as the organization,” Vernon said. “He spoke highly on it. He said pretty much you’ll love it here. He said he would be straight with me if it wasn’t. He was like, ‘You’ll love it here, man, it’s just a different pace, a different place from where you’re from.’ But overall, he’s trying to win. He’s trying to make something happen and he’s got a lot to prove right now.
The Giants are certainly glad to have him. Vernon is one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing ends. He has 29.0 sacks in four seasons, including 11.5 in 2013 and 7.5 last season – when the Giants’ 23 sacks placed them 30th in the NFL. Overall, the team ranked 32nd in total and pass defense.
“That’s not Giants standards right there,” Vernon said. “From what I remember, they’ve always been stout on defense. The Giants are trying to win and get the defense back. Last year, it wasn’t what it was expected to be. That’s not the Giants’ way.”
Vernon understands how it should be. He wants the Giants to have the kind of lethal pass rush that made life miserable for quarterbacks when Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck were sharing time at defensive end.
“I remember watching the games when I was younger, watching the games of them in the Super Bowl, them in the spotlight,” Vernon said. “Those guys, they got after it. They set the standard of what a D-line should be, especially on the big stage like that. We just got to get back to that.”
Vernon is eager to become a leading figure in what he believes will be a significant improvement in the Giants’ defense.
“I pretty much can’t wait to take the field,” he said. “The defense in Giants history has always been prestigious. Right now, it’s about getting to work, because nothing is going to be given to us. We’ve got to go in the building and just work. I’m ready to move on to the next chapter in my life right now and see how everything pans out.”