When Josh Norman was with the Carolina Panthers he was an All-Pro.
But with each passing year in Washington — he was a Redskin from 2016 through 2019 — the cornerback’s effectiveness on the field seemed to diminish, until finally last season, he was benched.
Opinions were often split on Norman: Was his decline the natural erosion of skill and speed that comes with age? Or did Washington coaches not know how to utilize a special player’s talent?
Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane, who signed Norman to a one-year, $6 million deal last month, made his thoughts clear on the subject.
“We didn’t think the system Josh Norman played in Washington played to his strengths,” Beane told reporters Thursday. “He’ll bring an edge to our defense and I think he’s got something to prove.”
The Bills are betting a reunion with coach Sean McDermott, who served as Norman’s defensive coordinator in Carolina, can rejuvenate Norman’s career. In Carolina, Norman thrived with a zone-heavy system, asking him to shut down his section of the field.
The Redskins, by comparison, asked Norman to play more man coverage. The three-time Pro Bowler performed well enough over his first three seasons with Washington, but he fell short of the superstar expectations that came with the five-year, $75-million deal he signed in 2016.
The Redskins released Norman last month, clearing $12.5 million in cap space. The split had been inevitable as Washington benched Norman for the last month-and-a-half of the season. Even with the hiring of former Panthers coach Ron Rivera, the Redskins opted for a fresh start.
Before his exit, Norman said he knew he was still a top cornerback in this league. But many were skeptical as Norman’s play heavily declined throughout 2019.
According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks completed 69.6% of their passes when targeting Norman — a career high for the cornerback. Norman was targeted 46 times and gave up 32 receptions for 472 and eight touchdowns.
At one point, former Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was asked about Norman’s issues and gave a telling response.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Mansuky said. “You’d have to ask him. We think we put him in some positions to make plays and he’s just not making them.”
After Norman was benched from the starting lineup, the veteran did make one appearance in a December game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Injuries had forced the Redskins to play Norman, and when he got his chance, Norman surrendered the game-winning touchdown in the end zone to wideout Greg Ward.
After the game, Norman expressed confidence he still was an elite-level player.
“I don’t ‘believe’ anything … I am,” Norman said. “Sucks that I can’t prove it right now, but … you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt. That’s what it is. I was dealt a hand right now and I’ve got to play it.”
With Buffalo, Norman can get the opportunity that he wanted. He’ll be expected to compete for a starting spot opposite of Tre’Davious White. He joined a contending team coming off a playoff appearance. The Bills, too, are expected to be the AFC East favorites after the New England Patriots lost quarterback Tom Brady in free agency.
And if he plays at a high level, Norman’s contract carries incentives that can boost his salary to $8 million.
“We think he fits our scheme well,” Beane said of Norman. “Knowing Josh, I don’t think he liked the way things went there this past season. He’s a great young man, he plays with a chip on his shoulder. … Obviously he’s got to go out and prove that he can still play at a level that we would deem acceptable.”