Just when I thought I’d have nothing exciting to write about, the Panthers organization gave me me a gift-wrapped parcel from heaven.
For those unaware, the Panthers released top-cornerback Josh Norman on Wednesday evening out of nowhere.
Last year, Norman immersed himself as the best cornerback in the league, playing in a zone scheme where he consistently shut down his matchup while also bringing tons of intensity and trash-talk that kept things interesting down to the final snap. This only added to the value of the Panthers last year, as they shocked the world going 15-1 by dominating opponents, and Norman was a huge reason for that.
Norman was given the franchise tag this offseason, which gives him a contract next year of the average of the top 5 best-paid players at his position. The idea behind the franchise tag is so the team can have an extra year to agree with the player on a long-term deal, or they get to keep the player for a yearlong rental. Franchise tags can only be used on players that would be returning to the roster from the previous year. With the tag, Norman gets paid this year, and the Panthers keep their stud cornerback, giving them an obvious run at the Super Bowl again this year. This seems like a win-win, right?
Wrong. Things get interesting right about now.
Norman refused to sign his franchise tag. The big guy wanted a long-term deal at 16 million dollars per year, around 2 million per year more than Richard Sherman. Here’s what’s wrong with Norman, he’s 28 and he’s never had an elite year like this before. For the Panthers, there’s plenty of reasons not to sign him. GMs around the league could view this past year as a fluke, or that it’s improbable he continues an elite level of play throughout his potential long-term contract. Also, this potential contract is likely to end in his mid to late 30s, and in the NFL you do not want to pay a 34 year-old cornerback 16 million dollars per year, that’s just bad business. Unless it’s Champ Bailey, they’re not going to be playing at an elite level at that age, AKA they won’t be worth the pay.
So, after months of Norman ‘holding out’ on a franchise tag agreement, the Panthers decided, “reaching a long-term deal was non-attainable” with Norman, so they released him.
You have to respect the nuts the Panthers just plopped on the table, and the precedent it sets for players in the future who want to wage a contract war with the organization. Players hold out all of the time now, missing summer practices in order to show ‘how serious they are’ (Remember Kam Chancellor’s skipping-of-games earlier this year?) In a power move only Bill Belichick could compare to, the Panthers put their priorities towards having a roster of people who want to play and want to win, and then money comes afterwards. Bravo, guys.
In my evaluation, the Panthers will be fine without Norman. As a matter of fact, Norman needs the Panthers more than the Panthers need Norman. Much of his elite play was due to the insanely talented defense around him, with a studded front 7 that helped relieve pressure from the secondary. That isn’t to say Norman didn’t play great, or that he won’t play well elsewhere, but it does explain the breakout year of elite play at age 28. So, the Panthers will be fine, but what about Mr. Norman?
Where will Josh go from here?
My educated guess says the San Francisco 49ers. They have the 2nd most cap space (at around 52 million), are highly interested and have a need at that position, and it’s been rumored that Norman would like to play in California. Other teams that are interested, as reported by Adam Schefter, are the Redskins, Steelers, Dolphins, Titans, Buccaneers, Bears, and Jets. Any of these teams could benefit, but I don’t think the Steelers or Jets have enough money to agree to a long-term deal that Norman would want. Other front-runners in my opinion would be the Bears, with 22 million to spend, and the Titans, with 29 million to spend.
One thing is for sure, Norman will get payed by somebody this offseason to play cornerback, and I’ll be licking my chops to find out who it is.