Redskins sign CB Josh Norman

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The Washington Redskins have signed cornerback Josh Norman, one of the most prized free agents on the market this entire offseason, to a contract worth $75 million over five years, an average of $15 million per season. The deal includes $50 million in guaranteed money and $51 million over the first three years of the contract. That makes Norman the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL.

Norman, one of the best defensive players in the NFL the past two seasons, became a free agent after the Super Bowl. The Carolina Panthers soon slapped the franchise tag on him, guaranteeing him between $13 million and $14 million per season. However, Norman and the Panthers were unable to come to a long-term agreement and the Panthers suddenly rescinded the franchise tag on Wednesday, sending shockwaves across the NFL.

Redskins Park was the first stop for Norman and, as it turned out, the final stop. The team sent their plane to pick up Norman and fly him to the D.C. area and they didn’t let him leave without putting his name on a contract.

Norman will get some stern early tests with the Redskins, as they open the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Antonio Bryant, arguably the best wideout in the NFL. After that, the Skins host Dez Bryant and the Cowboys and then travel to New Jersey to play Norman’s nemesis, Odell Beckham, Jr. and the Giants. That would be a tough three game stretch for any cornerback.

The Skins are about $11 million under the salary cap, but $3-4 million of that will be allocated for draft picks. The team could free up some space by cutting veterans WR Andre Roberts and/or ILB Perry Riley. The team appears to have no use for Roberts at this point, as all his jobs have been taken by younger wideouts Jamison Crowder and Rashad Ross. However, the team has reportedly wanted to hang on to Riley, as they like how he plays inside with Will Compton. There are, of course, ways Skins GM Scot McCloughan could get creative, crafting the contract so Norman’s cap hit is reasonable this season.

Norman’s signing immediately upgrades the secondary and, indeed, the entire defense for Washington. Norman will join fellow corners Bashaud Breeland, the other likely starter, Chris Culliver, Will Blackmon, Quinton Dunbar, Greg Toler, Everett DeShazor, Jeremy Harris, Al Louis-Jean, and DeShaun Phillips. Culliver is working his way back from a torn ACL suffere in November and it isn’t certain when he will be ready to play. Veteran DeAngelo Hall has played cornerback his entire career, apart from half of last season, when he was successfully moved to free safety.

Signing Norman allows him to match up twice a year with his nemesis, WR Odell Beckham, Jr., with whom Norman clashed repeatedly during week 15 of last season. The Panthers won the game by a field goal and Beckham received three personal foul penalties for cheap shots against Norman, who gave as good as he got. Beckham’s meltdown was the motivation for the NFL rule change that would expel a player from a game if he receives more than two personal foul penalties.

Expect Norman to soon develop a “history” with Dallas wideout Dez Bryant, another elite pass-catcher with a fiery personality, much like Beckham, Jr.

The question many will ask is how Norman will fit in the Washington defense. Very well, most likely. Norman mostly played zone defense for Carolina, which is what Redskins’ defensive coordinator Joe Barry wants to play. Norman had a career-high four interceptions, 16 passes defensed and 56 tackles last season for the NFC champion Panthers.

Norman possesses superior ball skills and closing speed and the ability to play physically. He’s not a Patrick Peterson sort of athlete, able to run with anyone in the NFL matched up one-on-one. What Norman does is play zone well and is superb on deep passes. As you can see from the chart below, Norman is an absolute blanket on sideline and seam routes, basically taking away virtually everything vertical. He was also great on outs, slants, curls, double moves and in routes last season. He was far less successful against crossing and comeback patterns, but because of the scheme run in Carolina, he almost never covered those routes. In other words, the scheme used in Carolina was perfectly suited to Norman’s strengths and his strengths are devastatingly effective.

The Norman signing continues GM Scot McCloughan’s program to rebuild Washington’s leaky defense.

Norman has the height and build to play physically and make plays with the ball in the air and there will be few receivers he cannot match up well against. But Norman has something else McCloughan covets, which is attitude. Norman likes to play physically and likes to intimidate his opponents. A lot of defense is about attitude and McCloughan and the Skins liked the way Chris Culliver brought his fiery intensity to practice, getting his teammates to play hard on both sides of the ball. Washington will get a lot more of that with Norman on the practice field.

Washington’s pursuit of Norman is eerily similar to a situation back in 2014, when the Philadelphia Eagles abruptly cut WR DeSean Jackson for a multitude of reasons, one being money, but the others being obscure to this day. Jackson instantly became the hottest property on the free agent market and the Skins quickly snatched him up with a three-year offer worth $24 million. Norman’s deal, as we see, includes twice as much guaranteed money as Jackson received in the entire contract.

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