The Washington NFL franchise acted quickly in free agency when they inked former Carolina Panthers Josh Norman, the top available cornerback, to a five-year, $75 million deal on April 22. The deal could pay him close to $50 million over the first three years of his time in Washington.
In this Oct. 4, 2015, file photo, Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman heads for the end zone after intercepting a pass from Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston during an NFL football game in Tampa, Fla. Normans agent says the cornerback has agreed to terms on a contract with the Washington Redskins. Agent Michael George confirmed the deal in an email to The Associated Press. Norman, one of the NFLs top corners, became a free agent Wednesday, April 20, 2016, after the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag, which would have paid him $13.9 million next season. The 28-year-old was holding out for a long-term contract. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco, File)
The Panthers rescinded the franchise tag on Norman earlier in the week, causing the top defensive back from their Super Bowl season to hit the free agent market in hopes of finding a team willing to meet his $15 million-per-year asking price. Washington gladly accepted.
The quick turn of events gives Washington one of the league’s premier cornerbacks to help defend their NFC East division crown. Norman did everything for Carolina last year, from picking off passes to shutting down big-time receivers. He infamously got into the head of New York Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., a Washington divisional nemesis. While Norman was a household name last season, he was little known prior to that breakout campaign. Washington is hoping for a sizable return on their large investment, but will Norman live up to the hype? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: It’s hard to turn your head at what Norman did last year. He had arguably the best season by a cornerback that the NFL has seen over the last few years. It doesn’t make him the pound-for-pound best cornerback in the league, but it does raise the interest on him. The Panthers’ defense boasted many important players who made it one of the best units in the league, and many will question whether Norman was just a product of their system. The Panthers’ pass rush flustered opponents, but Washington may be able to emulate some of what Carolina did if 2015 pickup Junior Galette returns from an Achilles tendon injury to partner with the always-lethal Ryan Kerrigan. Norman will certainly help a leaky secondary in D.C. The fact that he’ll match up four times each with the Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant and Beckham makes the price well worth it to me.
Green: Washington is a place where free agents go to die, we know this. No matter how flashy the signing or how dominant the player was in the previous season, things never go as planned in the District. I think Norman had a stout season last year, but he has two things working against him: he has no history of prior success and he’s headed to Washington. The Burgundy and Gold haven’t done the most phenomenal job of player development over the last few years, and the jury remains out on whether they’ll design a system to fit around Norman’s talents. My concern really isn’t so much with Norman, but with the program he’s entering, which hasn’t been favorable to big-money free agents.
Riley: Washington isn’t the same team of old. They’ve made solid efforts to right the ship since the Robert Griffin III experiment, and the under-the-radar signings they made last offseason turned out to be solid additions once the season unfolded. Washington hasn’t had a cornerback of Norman’s caliber since Champ Bailey was donning the Burgundy and Gold. Norman’s arrival should enable a host of defensive schemes, since his main strength is his ability to lock up star receivers one-on-one. I agree that Washington has written the textbook in past seasons on how to screw up both free agency and the draft while somehow still remaining profitable, but this team has a different feel. Head coach Jay Gruden won’t allow any player to become complacent regardless of salary, and last year’s division title will definitely keep the bullseye on the team’s back. The team is trending in the right direction, and this move only helps to push them further up the ladder.
Green: I agree with you that Washington isn’t the same team as in years past, but only because of the presence of relatively new GM Scot McCloughan. I have a ton of respect for McCloughan and I know he’s capable of putting together an amazing football team. The problem, however, is that the same owner, Dan Snyder, still looms. A $75 million deal to acquire a one-dimensional cornerback has Snyder’s signature written all over it. I wouldn’t be surprised if McCloughan preferred not to make a deal like this happen and, instead of listening, Snyder overruled his GM. It would be consistent with how Snyder has handled his team in years past. We all know Snyder loves to spend big money on high-profile free agents, and that’s exactly what Josh Norman was. I like Norman, but I have no doubt he’ll become the next Nnamdi Asomugha, the former cornerback for the Oakland Raiders, who got exposed as one-dimensional when he took a big contract to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. Nnamdi was a great bump-and-run corner, but was miserable in zone coverage. Norman is a great zone corner, but gets burned playing man-on-man. You simply don’t deserve $75 million if you can’t do both—unless, of course, if you sign in Washington.