Former Redskins cornerback Josh Norman will have the chance to restart his career after reportedly being cut by Washington after 4 years with the team. His release will save the NFC East team about $12 million.
Norman getting cut doesn’t just give him the chance to start off fresh. It also means a new free-agent target for many teams who are looking to strengthen their secondary and improve their passing defence.
The Coastal Carolina product certainly has a lot left in the tank. His last two seasons in Landover were pretty poor. This, alongside his steady salary, made the decision a no-brainer for the rebuilding Redskins. Still, there’s no denying that Norman’s time in Carolina, the last season of which included a Pro Bowl selection and a trip to Super Bowl 50, as well as his first campaign in the U.S. capital, will be remembered as beyond solid for the 32-year-old corner.
One of the suitors that could make the biggest push for the now ex-Redskin could be the AFC South champions Houston Texans. That is in the midst of their two starting cornerbacks – Bradley Roby and Johnathan Joseph – becoming free agents.
Despite the fact that Roby will more than likely see a lot of interest shown towards him by many competing teams, it’s vital for the Texans to find a way to keep him. Roby registered a massive year-to-year on-field improvement, allowing a passer rating of just 79.9 when in coverage.
His heroics proved to be a big part of downplaying a bad year for the Texans secondary that went unnoticed. Houston finished the regular season with the 4th-most allowed passing yards (267.2) and 7th-highest allowed passer rating (98.4). The Texans D also had a disappointing year in terms of putting pressure on the QB and was amongst the teams that surrendered the most average yards per game during the 2019 NFL season, but improvements start with defending the air raid better.
That’s why, even if Houston manages to agree to terms with the 27-year-old Roby, they need to go for something better at the second CB spot. In spite of the deals of many crucial players, such as Darren Fells, Lamar Miller, and Carlos Hyde, expiring, that’s a manageable task with $65 million in salary cap space.
Joseph, in the meantime, will be 36 in April. He made 14 appearances in 2019 and experienced a significant drop in his numbers but was a solid contributor for the Texans secondary. He isn’t, however, what the Texans need going forward and, surely, isn’t a player Bill O’Brien will be focused on bringing back for the 2020 season.
There’s a reason for the Texans – and other teams – to trust Norman on becoming the dominant force he was during his tenure in Charlotte. The narrative made popular with Redskins fans is that not only is their organization one of the most mediocre in professional sports overseas but also a total hell for any player who happens to play there – the same applies to Norman’s game in the last three years.
He more than once criticized head coach Jay Gruden before Gruden was fired mid-season, as well as Redskins management. Last season certainly dipped his value but signing with a new team could be what he needs to thrive again like he did in Carolina.
When free agency being in March, the Texans will start the signing period with Roby being their top re-signing priority. Even if Houston spends $10 million-$15 million per year on their best corner, Norman will still remain within striking distance since he could be forced to settle for less than the $15 million he received in 2019 after consecutive campaign will 100.0+ allowed passer rating and four combined picks – numbers which do not fit a cornerback with aspirations for a top pass defender.
That kind of plan has its fair share of hazard but doesn’t have many real alternatives. Chris Harris, the best CB on the free-agent market, is projected by Spotrac to get 3 years, $11 million this offseason, and Jimmy Smith, Logan Ryan and Roby will all also get over $10 million a year. This means the Texans won’t sign two of those four options better than Norman in the same offseason. They can financially do it but question marks at RB, TE, OL, and DL could prevent that from happening.
Will Norman return to his old glory?
That’s always difficult to predict but it’s widely known that, when healthy and at his best, Norman is a top 5 cornerback in the NFL. One very important factor will be the cast around him on the Texans defensive unit, which will be important for giving him opportunities to gain his confidence back. That’s also the reason why the desperately needs Roby besides him – it’s difficult to see him be as dominant as Roby was in 2019 and cover up for one of the worst all-around passing defences in the league.
Since surrendering the 2nd-fewest yards through the air in 2016, the Texans have finished as a bottom 10 secondary against the throw in every season. Re-signing their best cornerback and adding an experienced and otherwise great back in Josh Norman, who is also a better option than Joseph, could provide an improved passing defence and still leave enough space for the team to resolve other questions at the tight end and running back positions.
Other candidates for Norman
Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also among the worst defensive units against the pass, could be looking to strengthen their secondaries. Both teams have one cornerback that is surely a starter, Patrick Peterson and Carlton Davis respectively, and at least $50 million in cap space to spend.
Both Peterson, who is working out a new deal with general manager Steve Keim, and Davis, a 2018 second-round pick who finished the season second in passes defended (19), are starting solidify their places for the long run, which is just another indicator of the ambitions the two teams will have to improve their defence.
The Buccaneers’ top priority as of now is to figure out who their starting QB is going to be in 2020 with Jameis Winston becoming a free agent, so their role in the CB discussions could turn out to be limited for the time being.
Teams like the Jets and the Titans, whose best corners are now FAs (Brian Poole and Logan Ryan), might be interested in the 2016 Pro Bowler as well.