In a stunning development, the Carolina Panthers have lifted the franchise tag from 2015 All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, making him an unrestricted free agent immediately.
The #Panthers have rescinded the non-exclusive franchise tag on CB Josh Norman immediately making him an unrestricted free agent.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) April 20, 2016
After announcing the news via Twitter, the Panthers also released this statement regarding the matter.
“After a number of conversations with Josh’s agent, we realized that a long-term deal was not attainable. We have decided to rescind the franchise tag freeing Josh to immediately become a UFA. We thank Josh for all his contributions and truly wish him well.”
Obviously, this is some huge news, as Josh Norman is one of the top-five, if not THE top defensive player in today’s NFL along with Khalil Mack, JJ Watt, and Vonn Miller. It’s been reported that Norman wanted a long term deal, somewhere in the $15-16 million-per-year range with the Panthers. Carolina decided that it was more important to try and pay pass rusher Star Lotulelei and safety Kurt Coleman (upcoming contracts) rather than throwing all of their eggs in one basket and award Norman an absurd contract. While it certainly is not ideal for Josh Norman to become a free agent just a week before the 2016 NFL Draft, he is still going to get paid and get some big time offers. However, due to salary cap restrictions, only a handful of teams are realistically in the running for Josh Norman. With Batman now up for grabs, let’s discuss potential landing spots for the league’s top corner.
Oh, how sweet it would be for the Oakland Raiders to land Josh Norman. Putting Norman alongside star pass rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin with newly-signed safety Sean Smith would immediately create one of the league’s most lethal and feared defenses. The Raiders have already been big spenders so far this offseason with the additions of Smith, Irvin, safety Reggie Nelson, and offensive guard Kelechi Osemele. Oakland still has roughly $12 mil in salary cap space remaining for 2016 and if they were able to restructure a few contracts or release some players, they would be more than well within range of landing Josh Norman. If I’m Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, I’m on the phone and dong everything I can these next 24-48 hours to be able to bring Josh Norman to Oakland.
San Francisco 49ers
Another team with a solid amount of open salary cap space is the San Francisco 49ers. While San Fran may not have the talent on their roster to attract a player like Josh Norman to their team like their silver and black foes on the other side of the Bay, money talks. The 49ers currently have the second-most available salary-cap space in the NFL with approximately $52 million. A new head coach in Chip Kelly, California, and money are all solid reasons for Josh Norman to go to San Francisco, but his services would be relied on 20 times more than they would in Oakland due to the massive rebuild the 49ers are currently in the midst of.
With roughly $22 million in open salary cap space, the Chicago Bears are very much a potential landing spot for Josh Norman if they are interested in acquiring his services. The 2016 season will mark the beginning of the post-Charles Tillman/Matt Forte era in Chicago. With Kyle Fuller heading into the third year of his four-year deal, it may not be a bad idea for the Bears to make a run at Josh Norman to try and bulk up their secondary for the future (assuming they decide to re-sign Fuller following the 2017 season). The Bears also signed linebacker Danny Trevathan to a 4-year, $28 million contract this offseason, meaning that the core of their defense for the next several seasons will rely on Fuller, Trevathan, safety Antrel Rolle, and linebacker Pernell McFee. The addition of Josh Norman would give the Bears stability in their secondary and help balance out their defense while also allowing them the ability to lockdown Jordie Nelson and Golden Tate four times a season. Being a major market in a party city like Chicago could also help the Bears attract the attention of Josh Norman to the Windy City.
If you are Josh Norman, you have options right now. You are the best lockdown corner in the game and in line for a huge payday. After losing in the Super Bowl, it is safe to say that Josh Norman is going to want to go somewhere that he will have a chance to get back to the Super Bowl and compete for a championship. That place is not Cleveland. Yes, the Browns have a ton of salary cap space (approximately $40 million), but this franchise is the definition of a dead zone. If Josh Norman goes to Cleveland, he will be their defense’s heart and soul as it will likely be quite some time until Cleveland’s pass rush and the remainder of their secondary are be able to supply any help to Norman. Financially, the Browns are in the running for Josh Norman. But in terms of Josh Norman wanting to go to a place where he can win, they are not. The only way Josh Norman goes to Cleveland is if he gets some ridiculous $20-22 million-per-year offer and gives up on the idea of winning a Super Bowl during his career.
Entering the 2016 season, the Jags have the most available salary cap space in the entire NFL (approximately $55 million). The last several years, this franchise has been trying and trying and trying to rebuild and find their foundation. They have a young and promising quarterback in Blake Bortles, a solid set of receivers in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Marqise Lee, and a young and upcoming defense led by DT Dante Fowler Jr and newly signed defensive end Malik Jackson. With so much open money on such a young and promising team in a location that most players wouldn’t mind living in year-round in Florida, the Jacksonville Jaguars could be high on Norman’s list. If Jacksonville were able to land Josh Norman, he would become an immediate difference maker, and will likely prove to be the piece that this team was missing the last several seasons and allow them to take the next step in their rebuilding process, and that is to return to the postseason.
Information from spotrac.com was used in this report.