The NFL again managed to steal the headlines away from the NHL and NBA, this time during their respective playoffs. That isn’t all that surprising based on the fact that when Tom Brady breathes we have someone writing about if the air quality is good enough in his neighborhood, but what is surprising is yesterday’s rescinding of the Franchise Tag on Cornerback Josh Norman by the Carolina Panthers. Panthers, are you kidding me? The reason a franchise tag is placed on a player is to keep them from entering the free agent market. It is reserved for a player that your team can not lose. So, why would you drop the franchise tag on Josh Norman, one of the top defensive backs in the whole league? It is a very perplexing case, considering the breakout season Norman had with four interceptions and two defensive touchdowns while shutting down the league’s top receivers. So, now that the franchise tag was dropped on Norman, he becomes an unrestricted free agent, and can be picked up by any team. In one move, Josh Norman just became the prized commodity of Free Agency, one that teams are expected to pursue and throw more money at than fellow Cornerback Janoris Jenkins’ 5-year/$62.5 million deal with the New York Giants.
But, why did the Panthers release such an All-Pro cornerback from their team? Cap space does not seem like a viable reason considering that his contract was for $13.952 million under the tag and Carolina had extra cap space, but another reason could be character. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman cited that there was no way Norman and the Panthers would agree to a long-term deal before the season and that the Panthers wanted guys only who were “all in.” This is telling because Norman has had some history of attitude issues and while it fit in with the Panthers’ swagger this past season, it might not be sustainable throughout his career. The one instance that comes to mind is his mayhem with Odell Beckham Jr. in the Panthers’ Week 15 matchup against the New York Giants where Norman’s emotions couldn’t be held in check and he instigated and engaged in many all-out brawls. He is someone whose charisma and personality can energize a fan base but can often overstep his boundaries. There is still a chance for Norman to return to the Panthers like Charles Johnson did, but Johnson is an older veteran who wants to win while Norman is approaching his prime and is looking for as big a deal as he can get. Carolina’s defense is still loaded with talent but with his departure and unlikely return don’t be surprised to see Carolina draft with their secondary in mind at the draft in just over a week.
Even if their were some attitude issues it doesn’t warrant the release of a star player. Now fans are drooling over the prospect of their team getting their hands on this game-changer. There are many places that could possibly end up with Norman, most likely the ones who dangle the most cash in front of his face. Currently, reports have it that the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins are willing to give him the most money, which could be the factor in his new landing spot. For a player with as big an ego as Norman, it might be about taking the big deal to prove his worth and show he’s the best, rather than taking a slight pay cut to play for a contender like the Panthers, whom he just left. Hopefully his career doesn’t decline from this decision but typically the teams offering the most money are those looking to make a splash after poor on-field results. Norman is a shutdown corner, but he isn’t necessarily the one piece that can turn a defense from trash to treasure overnight. Although they don’t have the cap space to obtain Norman (they’re offering Ryan Fitzpatrick $9 million/year), the Jets would be a great fit for Norman, who plays quite well in a pressured environment like New York. In addition, the Jets need to upgrade their secondary which has become a liability ever since Revis Island became Revis Archipelago. But, this is unlikely to happen. There are many other weak secondaries in the NFL that could use a major upgrade in today’s pass-happy league and Norman could definitely be that fix. The NFL never ceases to amaze.