Washington Redskins earn 'B' for Josh Norman deal
The deal: According to Ian Rapoport, former Panthers CB Josh Norman has signed a five-year, $75 million contract ($50 million in guarantees) with the Redskins.
The Washington Redskins rolled back the years and dipped heavily into the piggy bank to secure the signature of CB Josh Norman to a five-year, $75 million contract.
There is little doubt that Norman in 2015 was an elite player, but will Washington fans celebrate this deal in a year or two, or be getting Albert Haynesworth flashbacks as history repeats itself and another blue-chip player ends up an overpaid mistake?
Norman gets criticized for being “merely a zone-corner.” He actually gets pigeon-holed as a cover-2 corner by some, but that’s even more ridiculous. Last season the Panthers ran cover-2 on 11.8 percent of their coverages. Seven NFL teams ran more cover-2 snaps, but league-wide, cover-2 has become a much less frequently used coverage than in the past (10.4 percent of coverage snaps league-wide).
Carolina ran a bit of everything last season, but it’s true to say that the majority of it was some form of zone-coverage. That’s not a criticism, though, since league-wide, teams ran some form of zone-coverage on 60.7 percent of snaps, and only three teams ran more man-coverage than they did zone in 2015.
Zone-coverage allows cornerbacks to make plays on the ball in a way man-coverage doesn’t. It’s no coincidence that five years into his career, Richard Sherman has 26 interceptions, playing plenty of zone-coverage in Seattle, while Darrelle Revis, playing mostly man-coverage during his career, only has 28 in nine years, and Patrick Peterson has 17 in his five seasons of mostly man-coverage.
Norman can cover in both man and zone, but the latter allows him to make best use of his ball skills and make plays for the defense. Last season, he notched four interceptions and broke up another 12 passes. That’s 14.8 percent of the passes thrown into his coverage, higher than Revis and pretty much any corner playing a lot of man-coverage.
In Washington, he will be playing in a scheme that plays a lot of zone-defense, but is more of a single-high safety system than the Carolina one he is leaving. The Panthers run a lot of quarters (cover-4), while Washington runs more cover-3 and 1. This defense, from a schematic point of view, is a great fit for Norman, who can still use his zone skills to attack the football and create turnovers, but will also be expected to man up one-on-one.
Over the past two seasons, Norman has allowed just 49.4 percent of passes thrown into his coverage to be caught, and has been beaten for an average of just 9.8 yards per reception. Those are elite numbers, and over his career, he has yet to allow a reception over 36 yards. But there are negatives in there. Last season, he surrendered three touchdowns, and it could have been worse had Odell Beckham Jr. caught the ball when he torched him early in that infamous meeting between the two.
Norman has a tendency to be caught by surprise at times by pure speed, and there is a big play waiting to happen somewhere against him. The Beckham matchup that we will now see twice a year will be fascinating because, while Norman did extremely well limiting a series of excellent receivers in 2015, Beckham had the upper hand in a big way before both players lost their cool and it became more of a brawl than a football game.
Maybe that was a bad day at the office for Norman. Bad games happen for everybody; but if it wasn’t, then those are two games a season in which he needs to up his game against one of the league’s best.
Overall, Norman is an excellent corner, and was probably the best in the league in 2015 (if you include playoff play), but he now becomes the best-paid corner in the NFL and is guaranteed $50 million from Washington over the next five years.
The next three corners on the list are Revis, Peterson, and Sherman, so Norman needs to maintain his 2015 play to justify that kind of money.
In the end, Washington added one of the league’s best cornerbacks weeks after free agency was all done and dusted and slotted him into a scheme that looks like a perfect fit for his skill-set. The money looks painful at first glance, but in all likelihood, is just the latest market-setting deal at the position, given a salary cap that is only ever going up.
The real cause for concern in Washington will be that Norman really only has one season of elite PFF grading, and even last year, there was a stretch of six games in which he was average. Odell Beckham Jr. gave him major trouble when the two faced before things got out of hand, and that is now a matchup Norman will face twice a season.
This deal makes a lot of sense, and is a real coup this late in the offseason, but there are enough concerns that you can’t entirely celebrate that kind of contract without at least being reminded of the follies of the past.