LANDOVER — The ball snapped and Josh Norman stood in place while Lions kicker Matt Prater nailed the extra point attempt. It was an unfamiliar position for the Redskins cornerback to be in.
The Redskins benched Norman on Sunday in a 19-16 win Sunday against the Detroit Lions, keeping one of their highest-paid players on the sideline. Norman, who is in his fourth year of a five-year, $75 million deal, took the field only for special teams duty.
Washington started third-year cornerback Fabian Moreau in Norman’s place. Rookie Jimmy Moreland took Moreau’s place at nickel.
Interim coach Bill Callahan said the decision was made earlier in the week, telling reporters Norman sat down with him, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and defensive backs coach Ray Horton to discuss the corner’s role.
“He’s been fighting through some injuries this year and at times we like to have some plays back for him,” Callahan said. “I think overall, Josh is a competitor who I really respect and I love. He’s an integral part of our football team. And today was really his decision when he came to the stadium as to whether or not he wanted to be activated or inactive because of the fact that he is battling through a lot of things.”
Norman, who did not speak to reporters after the win, had been listed as questionable entering the Lions game with a hamstring injury. He was a limited participant in practice on Friday and has battled various ailments — a bruised thigh, a finger injury — throughout the year. Callahan said Norman was available to play defense on an “emergency” basis against the Lions.
But Callahan did not commit to Norman starting next week when the team travels to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers, the cornerback’s former team. Norman, though, has struggled mightily this season. According to Pro Football Focus, the 31-year-old has allowed 31 receptions on 45 targets — good for 468 yards and seven touchdowns.
After grabbing three interceptions and forcing three fumbles last year, Norman has also yet to make an impact in terms of creating turnovers. Through 11 games, the cornerback has just one interception and one forced fumble, the latter of which the Redskins failed to recover.
On Thursday, Manusky deflected a question when asked about Norman’s struggles.
“Couldn’t tell you why, you got to ask him,” Manusky said. “I think from our situation, we’re putting him in situations to make some plays, and we’re just not making the plays. Sometimes that’s across the board as well on a lot of other players too.”
With Norman benched, the Redskins arguably didn’t miss their highest-paid corner. Washington limited Lions quarterback Jeff Driskel to 207 yards, picking him off three times and sacking him six times. Moreau grabbed two of Driskel’s three interceptions, while starter Quinton Dunbar snatched the other.
Asked about Norman’s benching, Moreau said he was just focused to “play ball.”
“That’s all I need to do,” Moreau said. “Play football.”
Regardless, the Redskins’ move Sunday was the latest indication of the team’s long-term plans with Norman. Washington can cut the former Pro Bowler and save $12.5 million toward its salary cap in the offseason.
The question, though, now becomes how much more will Norman play this year — if it all.
“I think we’ll look at everything again and reevaluate everything going back into the week and see where we’re at as we start to begin preparation for Carolina,” Callahan said.