- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2016

The Washington Redskins signed cornerback Josh Norman, who became an unrestricted free agent after the Carolina Panthers rescinded the franchise tag this week.

Norman met with Redskins officials at the team’s practice facility on Friday afternoon in Ashburn and was able to get a deal done. According to multiple reports, Norman’s deal is a five-year contract worth $75 million. The Panthers elected to place the franchise tag on Norman, but the 28-year-old cornerback did not sign the tender and was expected to hold out from offseason workouts. On Wednesday, the Panthers rescinded the tag.

“It came out of nowhere. It really did,” Norman told Larry Michael on Friday, the voice of the Redskins and TV host for the team’s broadcast network. “I got sideswiped – I didn’t see it coming. And for my old teammates that I had, oh my gosh, I’m gonna miss them dearly.

[When the franchise tag was rescinded] it was crazy because Mr. Bruce [Allen], the President, hit me up right away with a jersey, No. 24, and the crazy thing is I didn’t see it until a day and a half later because I was still getting over the fact of what was going on. Being somewhere 28 years all your life and just in a blink of an eye, gone, just like that, I’ve just never been without a job … That small amount of hours, everything went rapid and I came up here and it just felt right.”

As of Friday, the Redskins had an estimated $11.1 million available in cap space and will have to get creative to make Norman’s contract fit into the payroll. The team is expected to cut veteran wide receiver Andre Roberts, who had season-ending surgery on his meniscus late in December, on June 1, which would save the team $4 million. Cornerback Chris Culliver, who was signed to a four-year, $32 million contract last offseason, is scheduled to make $8 million this season. However, his contract is no longer guaranteed after he was suspended for one game in 2015 for his role in a 2014 incident in which he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors.

The Redskins‘ secondary was an area they were expected to address in the draft next week, as well as the defensive line. By signing Norman, the Redskins now have the flexibility to trade down and acquire more pick, focus on bolstering the defensive line or select the best player available. Washington will pick at No. 21.

From the moment Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan addressed the team’s offseason plans — first at the Senior Bowl in January and then the NFL combine in February — he maintained that the organization would not be big players in free agency. Instead, McCloughan heavily emphasized adding through the draft, an area he had great success in during various roles and stints with the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.

“Hard to answer,” McCloughan said in January at the Senior Bowl when asked how active the team would be in free agency. “I think we’ll have a little bit of money, but it’s going to be similar [to 2015]. We’re not going to be big players. You know, I don’t believe in that.”

During the league’s annual meeting in Boca Raton, Florida last month, McCloughan again discussed the dangers of overpaying in free agency as teams such as the New York Giants shelled out $62 million for cornerback Janoris Jenkins. That said, it is not often that a high-caliber player such as Norman becomes available less than a week before the draft, especially after being franchise tagged. This is the third consecutive season that the team has acquired a marquee player at an unlikely time. Last July, outside linebacker Junior Galette became available after the New Orleans Saints released him from a four-year, $41.5 million contract and the Redskins signed him a week later. In April of 2014, the Redskins landed veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson after the Philadelphia Eagles released him.

In hindsight, waiting out the annual free agency spending frenzy this year has now paid huge dividends for the Redskins and the lucrative contract is a good representation of how strongly the team feels about Norman.

Anchoring the Panthers‘ secondary, Norman started in all 16 games and recorded 56 tackles, 19 pass deflections and four interceptions — all career highs. He also returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns. In Week 15, Norman and New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. went after each other seemingly after every play. Beckham was penalized for unnecessary roughness three times and suspended the following week. Norman received one penalty. The Redskins and Giants will play in New York in Week 3, setting the stage for a fierce matchup. The two teams play again in Week 17.

The Redskins cut veteran safety Dashon Goldson prior to the start of free agency as a cost-saving measure and re-signed cornerback Will Blackmon and safety Duke Ihenacho. Washington also signed veteran safety David Bruton, who adds depth to the secondary and is a special teams ace. During the league’s annual meeting, coach Jay Gruden discussed his concern about the the depth at safety and the addition of Norman should help alleviate some of that pressure.

Veteran DeAngelo Hall is expected to make a full-time transition to safety from cornerback, which began last season after he returned from a toe injury. Gruden said that they could possibly try Blackmon, a versatile veteran who played outside and slot corner last season, at safety. With the addition of Norman, the Redskins can now try that without depleting their depth at cornerback.

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