The Browns’ defense was dealt a huge blow heading into the playoffs. Vernon suffered a torn Achilles in their Week 17 victory over the Steelers and was officially placed on Injured Reserve. That means he will be out for the duration of the postseason and will face a tough rehabilitation process during the offseason. Vernon was second on the Browns with nine sacks during the regular season, so his absence will be felt during the playoffs.
The timing could not be worse for Vernon, who is set to become a free agent after the season. He’s still a productive player when on the field, but he’s had trouble staying healthy over the past four seasons. It’s hard to envision him drawing a ton of interest in free agency coming off a torn Achilles, so he will likely have to settle for a one-year, “prove it” contract.
The Browns will head to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs, and Vernon’s absence has the potential to be a game-changer. Cleveland already struggled in pass defense — they rank just 25th in Football Outsiders’ pass-defense DVOA — and the Steelers are one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league. The Steelers also have an elite offensive line, so Ben Roethlisberger should have plenty of time in the pocket to find his talented pass-catchers. The Steelers are currently listed as four-point favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook.
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