Josh Norman, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, just hit the open market. In an unusual move, the Panthers have rescinded the franchise tag on him after coming to the belief that the team and his agent are so far apart on terms that no long-term deal was remotely viable, making him immediately available to the highest bidder.
The highest bidder better get the checkbook ready, because from the sounds of it Norman is looking for some serious bank.
But just how good is Josh Norman, and is he worth the dollars he’s chasing?
Norman ended the 2015 season having allowed a passer rating of 54.0, the best mark in the NFL. For much of the season opposing quarterbacks actually had a better passer rating just throwing the ball into the turf than actually targeting Norman.
When you include the playoffs, he had the highest coverage grade in the NFL, and ended the season as strong as he began it with fine outings in the playoffs, only for the team to come up short in the Super Bowl. Norman actually didn’t give up a reception at all in the Super Bowl, despite being targeted four times.
Counting the Super Bowl, there were 10 games this season in which Norman allowed two or fewer catches. He wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 36 yards all season long, 19 games of it.
Norman’s coverage numbers were excellent a season ago, and if anything they were even better this year, taking the step into the true shutdown corner realm that demands a big time contract.
There were hiccups to his play, however. His overall season was fantastic, but there was a six-week stretch to end the season that was average at best. His worst game of the season came against Odell Beckham Jr., and while that game will be remembered for Norman and Beckham losing their discipline entirely and concentrating more on scuffling with each other than playing football, by the time things really went south Norman had already been beaten badly on a deep pass that Beckham dropped.
Norman did seem to struggle against the speed of Beckham before that game became a farce.
That being said, that’s one game against one of the league’s best receivers. Just look at how Norman did against some of the other top players in the game last season:
–Held DeAndre Hopkins to 2 catches for 24 yards on 7 targets
–Held Vincent Jackson to 2 catches for 31 yards on 6 targets, picking off one pass.
–Held Mike Evans to 1 catch for 15 yards on 5 targets in the other meeting with the Bucs.
–Held T.Y. Hilton to 1 catch for 15 yards on 3 targets, breaking up the other 2.
–Held Dez Bryant to 1 catch for 6 yards on 5 targets.
–Held Julio Jones to 9 catches for 113 yards across 2 games (half Jones' per-game average).
Norman may not be perfect, but last season was about as close to shutdown play as cornerback play gets in today’s NFL.
So which teams should be picking up the phone and moving money around as we speak?
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags somehow still have money to burn, with around $53 million in cap space, and their best corner is Davon House. Norman would represent a monster signing for the team, which has shown willing as recently as a month ago to overpay in order to snag a key target.
San Francisco 49ers: New head coach Chip Kelly may not have personnel control in San Francisco like he did in Philadelphia, but the 49ers could emulate his big splash at corner from last season — Byron Maxwell — but on a far more accomplished player this time in Norman. The 49ers have the cap space, and their best corner is Tramaine Brock. This is a side that would be massively upgraded by Norman coming on board.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans took themselves out of the running for Jalen Ramsey when they traded away the top pick of the draft, but they could get a better corner in Norman and still have their trade bounty. OK, it would cost them a heck of a lot more in contract terms, but this is a team that still has the cap space to make it work, and would represent a massive offseason coup if they could pull it off, immediately giving them a talented defense to support second-year QB Marcus Mariota.