By now you know the Washington Redskins signed free agent CB Josh Norman to a five-year $75 million contract. Norman was first team All Pro last year and, in addition to being the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, he’s now one of the leaders of Washington’s defense. How will the addition of Norman alter the defensive backfield at Redskins Park?
First, let’s take a look at what Washington has on the roster right now:
Washington also has DeAngelo Hall, who started at cornerback his entire career, until the second half of last season, when he was successfully shifted to safety. He could switch back in a pinch. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett also filled in quite a bit at slot corner in 2015, but he was badly injured in the regular season finale against Dallas and it is anyone’s guess when he will be able to contribute again.
The starters last season were Breeland and Culliver, an expensive free agent. Breeland continued to progress in his second NFL season, becoming a solid starter with the potential to be even more. Culliver struggled for much of the season, not having quite the impact the team hoped for when he was signed away from the San Francisco 49ers. Then in November Culliver blew out the ACL in a knee and was lost for the remainder of the season. It is not clear when he will be ready for the 2016 season.
Obviously, Norman will be a starter for Washington, joining Breeland on the field. Some are speculating that Culliver will be cut after one season to accommodate Norman’s huge contract, but I suspect Washington will try to avoid that. Instead, the Skins will probably use Norman and Breeland as starters and use Culliver in nickel cornerback sets. When you consider that the Skins are in some form of the nickel about 70 percent of the time, that means they, like many NFL teams, really need three starting-caliber cornerbacks. In the nickel, Culliver would come in and Breeland would shift over to the slot, where he is far more suited to play than Culliver or Norman.
That leaves the fourth cornerback slot as a competition between Will Blackmon, youngster Quinton Dunbar and recent veteran free agent signee Greg Toler. Dunbar has the size and athleticism coaches love at the position and played shockingly well in 2015 when he was shifted over in his rookie season after playing his college years at wide receiver. However, Dunbar is still very inexperienced, which is not a problem for Toler, who knows the ins and outs of playing cornerback, even if he lacks the elite physical traits of the top players.
Blackmon started 10 games at cornerback for the Skins in 2015, but the team has talked of moving him to safety this season. Until Norman came along, that seemed overly optimistic, but now it seems like a real possibility, assuming Blackmon takes to the position. In other words, Norman’s addition to the roster could wind up strengthening not only the cornerback position, but safety, as well.
That leaves Everettt DeShazor as a probable move to safety, where the Skins could have a need, depending on the outcome of the 2016 draft.
Suddenly, the cornerback depth chart looks like this:
STARTERS: Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland
NICKEL: Chris Culliver
RESERVES: Quinton Dunbar, Greg Toler
A position that looked like a major weakness — where the Skins might have to use their top draft pick in 2016 — now looks like a real strength, freeing up Washington to address other areas of need, such as defensive line, safety and interior offensive line.