Yesterday, the Carolina Panthers made up their mind on their biggest contract dilemma. They rescinded their franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman, making him an unrestricted free agent.
It certainly appears that his time with the Panthers is over, as they wished him well on his way out the door. However, Norman’s journey will definitely be an interesting one in the coming weeks. The Coastal Carolina product is looking to become the highest-paid corner in the NFL. But in my humble opinion, he’s a complimentary piece of a defense, not a foundational piece. Norman is excellent in zone defense, but at best, he’s an above-average man-defender (we actually had this debate a few months ago here). While he can definitely elevate a defense that fits his skill set, he’s not the type of player who will elevate every defense he plays in. Norman, after his career season last year, is definitely the sexiest name on the free agent market, but that shouldn’t prompt a team to overpay for a guy who can’t consistently do one of the most important things a top cornerback must do.
Don’t get me wrong- I expect Carolina’s defense to take a step back, because Norman is still a very talented player who was, in a lot of ways, the catalyst of the defense along with superstar Luke Kuechly. Keep in mind, Norman is a confident, physical defensive back who is a very good tackler. He’s scrappy, and I find him to be a leader. So it’s not like he’s a waste of time, but a team really has to have the perfect scheme if they’re going to pay him what he will command. If he’s not willing to take a pay cut with the defending NFC Champs, a team who is returning most of their roster from last season’s successful run, then why would he take a pay cut elsewhere? The man is a former 5th round pick who hasn’t cashed in, and in this physical sport, you must make as much money as you can.
As for potential landing spots, it’s hard to gauge, due to his price tag. But the 49ers have a lot of cap space and are currently looking for an identity as a franchise. Dallas could use a cornerback, as they switched to zone defense towards the end of last season. Jacksonville could use a big name on defense, as Gus Bradley tries to keep his promising team moving forward. Either way, I expect Norman to make the money he so desires… I just have no clue where.