- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2019

ASHBURN — Josh Norman and Zach Brown gave each other autographed jerseys Monday inside the Redskins’ locker room. For both, the exchange was a season-end parting gift — and an acknowledgment of the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Because now, the waiting game begins.

A day after Washington’s 24-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, players cleared out their lockers and disposed of their belongings into trash bags with the year officially over. The Redskins understand the reality that can come with another losing season — not all of them will be back.

The Redskins, according to Over The Cap, have only a projected $20 million in cap space this offseason, which means they will need to create more room.

Norman and Brown are both under contract for 2019, but that doesn’t mean they are locks to return next season.

If Norman is cut, the Redskins can save $8 million — or $11.5 million if released after June 1 for next season. The 31-year-old cornerback, who signed a five-year, $75 million contract in 2016, just completed his third season with the Redskins and carries a $14.5 million cap hit next year.

“We’ll see,” Norman said. “Whenever they decide to have a meeting, we’ll see. And we’ll go from there. Like I said, (I’m under) contract, I’m here. Five years. Like I said, I think it’s one of my best seasons yet, and we don’t grow on trees. So we’ll see what happens.”

Norman’s play has been under a microscope ever since the Redskins made him the highest-paid cornerback in the league. Norman had an up-and-down 2018 — getting into verbal spats with Saints receiver Michael Thomas and Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan. Former teammate DeAngelo Hall said the cornerback was focused on “being a celebrity and not necessarily a football player.”

But Norman also had his best statistical season with the Redskins. He forced six turnovers — three interceptions and three forced fumbles. The Redskins also had Norman shadow opposing No.1 receivers when cornerback Quinton Dunbar went out with a nerve injury.

The Redskins will have a tough decision to make regarding Norman. While he does save money, Washington has no obvious replacement — especially with Dunbar coming off an injury. The team also has three uneven younger players in Greg Stroman, Danny Johnson and Adonis Alexander.

“He did some great things this year,” coach Jay Gruden said of Norman. “Obviously, probably his numbers weren’t where he wanted them to be — interception-wise or forced fumble-wise or what have you — but he’s still a solid player for us and a great option.”

Brown’s future, on the other hand, appears to be more of a foregone conclusion as the Redskins can save $5.75 million with his release. The linebacker lost his starting role after 12 games and told reporters on Dec.12 he saw the “writing on the wall” about his future with the Redskins. Washington started rookie Shaun Dion Hamilton in Brown’s place.

Brown said Monday he spent most of the year playing with a torn oblique, something he now regrets. He added he suffered the injury in training camp and should have given it time to heal instead.

Asked if he expects to be on a different team next year, Brown said he didn’t know.

“Whenever somebody gets benched, it’s never a good thing,” said Brown, who re-signed with the Redskins last offseason on a three-year, $24 million deal.

Norman and Brown aren’t the only players on the Redskins who could be cap casualties. Linebacker Mason Foster’s release would save $2 million and only has $275,000 in dead money. Cutting tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis would clear out $6 million and $5 million, respectively — though Gruden called Reed an important part of Washington’s success “moving forward.”

The Redskins, of course, must weigh what they would do at the position instead for every release, as well as what they would use the freed up money for.

If this was Norman’s last season with the Redskins, he’ll have ended his tenure without a playoff appearance. That wasn’t what Norman imagined when he agreed to join the team in 2016, calling it a “tough pill to swallow.”

“People will say, yeah, he came for money and all this other stuff,” Norman said. “But to be quite honest with you, man, I had that number somewhere else as well, so it wasn’t that.

“It was the fact that I believe in this group and the guys that was here and I saw something that could be done to be changed and I was for it. … It’s just really disappointing that it just didn’t work out the way you expect it to sometimes, what you expected to be doing.”

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