To cap off a very busy week in the National Football League with lots of attention-grabbing moves, the Panthers made the biggest move of them all. The one that left everybody confused and completely shocked. The one that made Panthers fans want to rip the hair out their heads and general managers rapidly pick up their phones. The craziest move in recent memory, except it may not be as crazy as everyone makes it seem. I know what you’re thinking: Alex, what did you just say?
You heard (well saw) what I said. Allow me to explain.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman made it clear that the two sides could not come to an agreement and they needed to move on. There is number of reasons as to why the Panthers cut ties with Norman. Some of them we don’t know, but let’s get into some of the main reasons why this move was a smart one by the Panthers.
It isn’t as if the Redskins just locked up a 25-year old corner entering his prime. They got a 28-year old corner who will turn 29 in December. Norman may be in the main stage of his career, but Washington will be paying him a lot of money up until age 33. Around age 30 is where corners usually see a decline in their production, typically signaling that the player is now a shell of what he used to be.
There is definitely some uncertainty with this contract when it comes to Norman’s age. It remains to be seen if he will be able to play at the All-Pro level he did last year for at least the majority of his 5-year, $75 million dollar contract. The Panthers definitely had this in their minds when deciding what to do with Norman, and saw his age as a big red flag which made them willing to cut ties with him. They believe they are really good at developing young corners, and didn’t think a player Norman’s age was worth that kind of top-level money. It’s a smart decision, and nobody can knock them for making it with the future being completely unknown and age not in Norman’s favor.
Throughout Norman’s 4-year career, last season was by far his most productive season. The other three seasons don’t even compare. Norman came from out of nowhere and took the league by storm. Looking at the stats, it’s a little confusing to see how Norman could go from where he was to the level he’s at now so quickly. In his first 3 seasons combined, Norman has put together a very unimpressive 3 interceptions, one less than last year alone. He was benched during his rookie season and was only active for 5 games the following year. It remains a big mystery how Norman all of a sudden made this miraculous jump to stardom. That’s why it’s too risky for the Panthers to pay Norman such a rich amount of money, when he could just end up not living up to it. It’s unknown which Norman will get, and since he’s only had one All-Pro year, he would have needed prove he can play like that consistently for more than one season to earn that kind of paycheck from Carolina. How do we know Washington won’t get the Norman from his first 3 seasons? I don’t, you don’t, they don’t, we all don’t. That’s why the Redskins better be counting their blessings and hoping the Norman from last year is here to stay.
Money was probably the biggest reason why the two couldn’t agree on terms. As we all know the Panthers had Norman on the $14 million franchise tender, but they both wanted a long-term deal as expected. The difference in suggested money between the Panthers and Norman was reportedly very large, as Gettleman wouldn’t pay Norman more than $11 million a year. Norman wanted more that the franchise tender at around $16 million per year. The Panthers were smart to refuse the requested money, especially with wanting to resign more deserving players on their roster. I think the future it just too uncertain to offer an aging corner with only one elite year under his belt a contract as rich as the one Washington offered him. Norman is now one of the highest paid corners in the league, which makes the signing based on complete hope for the best. It isn’t like they’re paying Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson this contract, they’re paying a guy who until this season people only knew from getting into a fight with Cam Newton. Those two guys are worth $16 million a year, probably more. Norman, until he proves himself more, does not deserve a contract as rich as the one he got and that’s a fact.
Panthers Game Plan
Paying defensive backs top-level cash isn’t the Panthers strategy. They build through the offensive and defensive lines first, and believe they are good at drafting and developing young corners. Hey, that’s what they did with Norman last year, so there’s no reason why they can’t have success again. You can’t keep everybody. And besides, they have more important guys they need to start laying out money for so they can keep their foundation in place. Especially if their names are Cam Newton or Luke Kuechly. They also have Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, two studs on the defensive line, who are going to need new contracts after this season. Obviously the Panthers felt very comfortable letting Norman go because of the other guys they have in place and they’re success with developing young corners, like they’ve done with Norman, in the past.
Lucky for them, this draft class is also loaded with talented defensive backs, so they could probably find a viable replacement that can be groomed into a good player. An example of somebody who might be available is William Jackson III, a corner with good size at 6’0″, great coverage ability and elite ball skills. The Panthers could sign a veteran free agent or maybe find a corner through a trade, even though the latter seems the least likely to happen. The point is there are plenty of different routes the Panthers can go down.
So as you can see the Panthers had a lot of deciding factors that came into play when making this decision, probably a lot more which weren’t mentioned here that none of us know about. By no means was this an easy move to make, as Carolina is saying goodbye to one of the leaders of last year’s Super Bowl squad. Norman was the heart and soul of that defense. It’s also not very common a team lets a player go who is coming off an All-Pro season, but that’s all part of the game. Questions start to surface as to why the Panthers didn’t just sign Norman to the tender and move on from there, or at least trade him and get good value for him. Well, as much as we can think about it, it’s too late. The deal is done. It was a very hard and well-thought-out decision, but in the NFL you never know what will happen, and tough decisions are made all the time whether you like them or not. It’s what makes the NFL so beautiful, we never know what will happen.