- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Josh Norman was once thought of as a potential cap casualty for the Washington Redskins. The 31-year-old cornerback is set to have a cap hit of $14.5 million in 2019, and the team would save $8 million by releasing him.

But coach Jay Gruden sounds these days like someone who’s counting on his star cornerback to return next season.

And when he does, Gruden said he’s expecting Norman — the highest-paid cornerback in the league after signing a five-year, $75 million contract in 2016 — to raise his play to “superstar status.”

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday in Phoenix, Gruden said the team is counting on Norman.

“To say he’s performed as the best cornerback in the National Football League would be farfetched, but I will say this: I’m glad we got him,” Gruden said. “Not having Josh Norman, our team would be not quite as competitive as we have been with Josh Norman. And I think moving forward having Josh on this roster is going to help us get where we want to go.”

Norman hasn’t had the impact on the Redskins that he did with the Carolina Panthers, his previous team. In 2015, he was named first-team All-Pro and regarded as a shutdown corner. That year, Norman grabbed a career-high four interceptions — returning two for touchdowns — and forced three fumbles.

Over time, Norman’s peers have questioned his “shutdown” status — most notably last season.

After a blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints in October, Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas posted on social media that Norman’s best days were behind him. In a radio interview, former teammate DeAngelo Hall said Norman was too focused on being a celebrity rather than a football player. He also had a confrontation with Gruden in which the coach yanked his headphones off during halftime of the Saints game.

But Norman rebounded from the drama. He had an interception the next week against the Panthers and finished the year with three. With starter Quinton Dunbar out with a nerve injury, Norman started to shadow the opposing team’s best receiver over the last half of the year.

Norman also forced three fumbles.

“I think this was one of my best seasons yet,” Norman said in late December.

Gruden said Norman is at his best when he’s challenged, using his matchup with former Giants star Odell Beckham as an example. That’s why he said is looking forward to Norman working with Ray Horton, who was hired this offseason to coach the team’s secondary. “He’ll push and challenge him every day,” Gruden said.

As far as the low interception totals, Gruden said it can be hard for top corners to rack up numbers because they aren’t often targeted.

But Norman’s salary creates high expectations. Gruden said Norman was solid in 2018, “but we’re looking for more.” He added he thinks Norman is capable of delivering because of the corner’s work ethic.

“People seem to be disappointed in his play,” Gruden said. “I’m not disappointed at all. I think Josh is a good football player and does some great things for us. Having Josh is a heck of a lot better than not having Josh for this football team.”

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