Life comes at you fast when you're an NFL player, as Josh Norman himself found out in 2020. It was only four seasons ago when he was heralded as the best cornerback in the league, going on to land his first Pro Bowl nod and First-Team All-Pro honors in 2015. He delivered a career-high four interceptions with two defensive touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers that season, but when the two sides couldn't come to terms on a longterm deal, the team sent Norman packing in the offseason to follow.
He was quickly snatched up by the Washington Redskins on a historic five-year, $75 million contract, but his body of work in the nation's capital not only failed to match the expectations that come along with such a massive deal, they also failed to mirror or best the numbers he put up in Carolina.
So when former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was signed by the Redskins, Norman's days were numbered, and that number is now called --and save roughly $12.5 million in cap space.
And with that -- Rivera's second release of Norman -- the former Pro Bowler finds himself looking for new employment, but it's expected he'll land somewhere in the league. The demand for his services and the pay to be offered will be a fraction of what they were four years ago, but several teams have a need at cornerback heading into free agency. Whether he can be a starter again depends upon where he lands and the fit, so let's take a look at who would be justified in giving Norman a call this spring.
This list is unranked.
It's tough to imagine the Chiefs need anything coming off of a 12-4 season and a victory in Super Bowl LIV, but head coach Andy Reid will be the first to remind you there are still areas they need to improve upon. The cornerback position is one of them, and they've tried several times in recent seasons to solve that problem. Veteran cornerback Morris Claiborne did little to contribute last season and fellow former Cowboys starter Orlando Scandrick became a failed experiment as well, as the Chiefs continued to mine the veteran free agency pool for answers. Adding Norman for depth wouldn't be a bad idea, but he'd need to be OK with likely playing backup.
Norman is known to enjoy a bit o' revenge when he can have it, and he'd view remaining in the NFC East to prove himself better than the Redskins think as a reason to have a discussion with the Eagles. It's well known the situation at defensive back got dire in Philadelphia in 2019, and they're looking to shore up the position in free agency. There are better cornerbacks to look into -- Byron Jones being one of them -- but if they can't secure a top flight corner, landing Norman as a bridge and going high at the position in the draft could be a thing.
Keeping in the vain of Redskins rivals who need help at corner, the Giants could do worse than finding out how much Norman would cost. Their secondary hasn't been worth writing home to mother about for quite some time, and the divorce from Janoris Jenkins in 2019 only makes their situation worse. Norman would be a starter in New York and, like the Eagles blueprint above, would still give them the opportunity to address the position in this year's NFL draft.
Norman could easily be a starter for the Texans in 2020, because despite his tarnished brand, the coverage in Houston leaves much to be desired. The unit graded out quite poorly in 2019 and must now contend with both Johnathan Joseph and Bradley Roby set to hit free agency. Vernon Hargreaves, III delivered zero interceptions for the club last season and CB unit as a whole had only three. Yes, Norman can be a liability, but no more so than several other CBs on the Texans roster. Plus, he has four INTs in the last two seasons, and with Justin Reid and Tashaun Gipson patrolling behind him, he could see a resurgence of sorts in Houston. By the way, they released Vernon Hargreaves, so add that to the pile of reasons for them to inquire about Norman.
Don't rule out a possible return to the NFC South for Norman, a division he knows quite well from his time spent in Carolina. The Falcons would love some assistance with their secondary, but more specifically at cornerback. Despite playing in only nine games last season, Desmond Trufant reeled in three interceptions, and while that's impressive on an individual achievement front -- the fact he's the only corner on the team who grabbed an INT is unacceptable. Like the Texans, the Falcons do have solid safety play that would help keep Norman from being stretched downfield, which is where most of his biggest weaknesses are put on full display.
There are a ton of questions surrounding what the Broncos will do at cornerback, but what's clear is they need to do something. They will be another big player at the CB free agency table this offseason, and have eyes on big fish like Jones in Dallas, but they need more than one move to get their secondary back on track. The only interception by a Broncos cornerback in 2019 came at the hands of Chris Harris -- who had only a single INT himself -- and Harris is set to join Norman in free agency. Harris will garner interest from other teams on this list and even if he remains in Denver, he needs assistance, and Norman can provide it. If the can't retain him, well, adding Norman as an inexpensive stop-gap makes that much more sense.
As an organization, the Raiders have never been afraid to bet on a player who's supposedly aged out of the NFL prematurely, and head coach Jon Gruden fancies himself a mechanic of player's brands. While the latter failed to achieve such a goal with wide receiver Antonio Brown, it's possible he could do so with Norman. No Raiders cornerback registered more than one interception in 2019 and trading away Gareon Conley removed a body in the unit, which could be made worse if Daryl Worley walks as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. The Raiders need depth at cornerback, but more importantly they need starters, and might roll the dice on Norman as they head into Vegas -- hoping to not come up snake eyes.
Role: Backup/Possible starter
Sounds weird when you say it out loud, but there's definitely logic behind a possible reunion between Norman and the Panthers. For starters, the regime that divorced him in 2016 is long gone, and new head coach Matt Rhule has no reason to turn a blind eye to Norman based upon what happened or did not happen in yesteryear. Even ownership is brand new, with David Tepper taking the reins from an ousted Jerry Richardson in 2018. With the slate essentially now clean, and with the Panthers standing to benefit from veteran depth behind James Bradberry and Donte Jackson, you can't dismiss this renewing of vows outright -- especially considering Bradberry himself is a free agent who'll field calls from other clubs after a career-best three INT season.
Maybe we see an NFL swap, with Norman's release by Rivera not only opening the door for a reunion between the coach and Bradberry in Washington, but also reopening a window for Norman and the new-look Panthers to have a discussion.
Stranger things have happened.