- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

When the Washington Redskins signed cornerback Josh Norman to a five-year, $75 million deal in the 2016 offseason, it was generally acknowledged the team had acquired not just one of the NFL’s top coverage players, but also one of the league’s fiercest competitors.

Over most of Norman’s five years in the league, that competitiveness has translated into blanketed receivers and broken-up passes. For the Redskins this season, it also meant yellow flags. Lots of yellow flags. No player in the NFL was hit with as many penalties — 19 — as Norman.

The 29-year-old’s infractions varied from memorable, like his unsportsmanlike conduct call during the Cleveland Browns game on Oct. 2, when Norman pretended to fire a bow and arrow after catching an interception, to downright costly, like his illegal use of hands penalty against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, a penalty that would help extend a drive that would lead to the game-winning touchdown.

Norman’s 19 flags consisted of six calls for illegal use of the hands, three for offsides, three for pass interference, two for holding, two for unsportsmanlike conduct, two for unnecessary roughness and one for delay of game. Those calls accounted for 15.57 percent of Washington’s total infractions — higher than any other player in the NFL, according to nflpenalties.com. Half of his penalties came in the fourth quarter, 12 of his penalties came on either a pre-snap play or first down and his flags surrendered a total of 99 yards.

Norman’s well-publicized on-the-field feuds with star recievers like the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. and the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant seemed to put a target on his back, especially with refs.

Matched up against each other in Week 3, Norman and Beckham Jr. picked up where they’d left off in a memorable game-long confrontation that happened a season earlier, while Norman was still a Carolina Panther. Norman got a little heated, taking a unnecessary roughness penalty and a defensive holding penalty.

Against superstar A.J. Green and the Cincinnati Bengals in London on Oct. 30, Norman was flagged four times for illegal use of hands. In the final game of the season, Norman was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after head butting Beckham Jr.

Norman also wasn’t shy about voicing his displeasure with the officiating, especially after Green had 9 catches for 121 yards in London (not all against Norman). As Norman stood before a podium post-game, he barked directly at the referees, specifically calling out third-year field judge Brad Freeman.

“Who’s 88?” Norman asked, referring to Freeman’s number. “I just got to know. Who’s official 88? He sucked. I’m just going to be honest with you. I’m going to be straightforward. He was terrible. I feel like he should be reprimanded. I feel like some of the plays that was going on out there was just terrible.”

Norman said at the time he thought officials were holding him to a higher standard than other cornerbacks because of his reputation. His head coach agreed that may be the case.

“As far as him being targeted, he probably is a little bit,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said following that game in London. “But he’s going to have to deal with it and work on his hand placement and just continue to work and get better and better.”

The flags may have hindered Norman’s on field production this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Norman was the 14th best secondary player in pass coverage and the 24th-best secondary member overall. That’s by no means a poor ranking, but falls short of the standard that made Norman the league’s highest-paid cornerback in 2016, at $15 million a year.

In his last year with Carolina, Norman ranked as the third-best overall corner in the NFL and the top corner in pass coverage. He was named First Team All-Pro and went to the Pro Bowl. No Redskins were named to the All Pro team this season, and Norman is an alternate to play in the Pro Bowl.

Norman said he has no plans to change his style.

“What am I going to change, my aggressiveness? My [toughness]?” Norman said during the season. “For what? No. Why’s it going to change now? Because it’s aggressive? Hands to the face? So? I’m going to come back and I’m going to be aggressive in the same way the next time, and the next time after that. You’re going to have to actually physically run through me to beat me. That’s what’s going to have to happen. At the end of the day, that’s how I play, that style of football.”

Gruden defended his high-priced cornerback after the Cincinnati game, saying he appreciates the passion Norman brings to the field, and he doesn’t want him to change either.

“I’ve been very impressed with Josh from the day that he got here,” Gruden said. “He works extremely hard. He’s got a great energy every single time that he walks out onto the field, and he’s the last one off the field. He’s attentive at meetings — he’s excellent. As far as his on-the-field penalties that he’s gotten, he’s a physical football player. He’s in your face and he’s very competitive. You don’t want to change that about him at all; that’s what makes him, him. Obviously we might have to work on his hand placement in bump-and-run so he doesn’t hit the receiver in the head, but his aggression, his competitive style, that’s what drew us to him in the first place. We would never change that.”

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