Josh Norman‘s brief voyage into free agency is over.
Just two days after the Carolina Panthers rescinded their non-exclusive franchise tag on the All-Pro cornerback, Norman signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Washington Redskins on Friday, a source informed of the situation told NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The contract, which makes him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, includes $50 million in guarantees.
Norman’s new contract ends a brief but profitable courtship for the 28 year old, who became a free agent Wednesday. He visited the Redskins on Friday — flying to D.C. aboard the team’s private jet — and signed a deal hours later. Norman was contacted by roughly 10 teams within hours of the Panthers cutting him free, but Washington wouldn’t let him leave the building without a contract.
With the draft kicking off next week, teams interested in Norman were expected to move swiftly. Norman also hoped to have a pact in place before the first round launched next Thursday.
Norman would have been one of the hottest commodities at the start of free agency, but his late entry into the open market ultimately didn’t hurt his value.
It’s by far the biggest splash of the Scot McCloughan era in Washington. The second-year Redskins general manager has operated conservatively in free agency, looking for reliable veteran help at a decent price. The Norman deal tosses that strategy into the blender.
The Redskins sat just $11,682,340 under the salary cap before inking Norman, per OvertheCap.com, but McCloughan will find a way to work the books. Besides, if Norman plays the way he did last year, the guaranteed money will be worth it.
Norman immediately turns the cornerback position into a strength for last year’s NFC East champions. Bashaud Breeland was highly productive in 2015 and will make for a fascinating starting duo with Norman. Will Blackmon, Quinton Dunbar and Greg Toler all add depth. Chris Culliver, coming off ACL surgery, is a candidate to hit the bricks. The team still could use help at safety, but coach Jay Gruden mentioned in March that Blackmon and fellow cornerback Deshazor Everett could see snaps at the position. Adding a player of Norman’s abilities gives the Redskins incredible flexibility.
The signing also tweaks Washington’s plans for the draft. Seen as a team that could look for corner help — names like Eli Apple, Mackensie Alexander and Kendall Fuller have been thrown around — the Redskins now have the position sealed up.
The big question for Washington is whether Norman can recapture last year’s magic outside of Carolina. As one of the leaders of a rough-and-tumble Panthers defense, Norman exploded onto the scene last autumn, compiling four interceptions and 19 passes defensed. He also allowed a 60.9 passer rating in coverage, the 15th-lowest among qualifying cornerbacks in 2015. His play tailed off for spurts down the stretch, but his overall body of work was superb.
Norman will be tested out of the gate with games against Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, Dallas’ Dez Bryant and — that’s right — the New York Giants‘ Odell Beckham over the first three weeks of the season.
Dropping $50 million in guarantees on a player entering his age-29 season is a high price, but Norman has the talent to make every penny worth it if he matches last season’s heroics.