The Carolina Panthers this past Sunday blew past the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game 49-15 that earned the franchise just its second trip to the Super Bowl with a matchup against the Denver Broncos.
Following Super Bowl 50, the attention will quickly shift to the offseason across the league with the first order of business involving pending free agents on each respective team. For the Panthers, much of that concerns one of the team’s defensive players in cornerback Josh Norman. The 28-year-old is coming off his most productive season in his four-year career that included career highs in interceptions (four) and pass deflections (18) as one of the key pieces of the Panthers’ sixth-ranked defense.
Norman’s performance earned him his first Pro Bowl selection along with being named to the All-Pro First Team, Pro Football Writers of America’s (PFWA) Most Improved Co-Player of the Year, PFWA All-NFL Team and All-NFC Team, and an NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September. He’s also considered to be a strong candidate for this year’s NFL Defensive Player Year of the Award. All of this has positioned Norman for a significant payday come this upcoming offseason that will certainly blow out of the water his current annual salary of $574,750 that he made in his four-year, $2.3 million contract that was signed prior to the 2012 season.
This will be a huge hit financially for the Panthers, especially after the team had the opportunity to sign him to an extension prior to the 2015 season but was too far in contract talks to come to an agreement. The front office now has an important decision of whether to franchise tag its Pro Bowl cornerback, which will likely fall in the range of $13.5 million and $14 million, or pursue a long-term deal. Carolina could bite the bullet for one season with the franchise tag, but it will put the team in a similar position next offseason.
Norman is seeking a lucrative contract that will likely that extend throughout the prime of his career, which would be a huge positive from the Panthers’ perspective. This would also prevent them from possibly paying more next offseason if he were to play better or the same in 2016 under a franchise tag. Another realistic scenario could be another team swooping in and paying him the large contract that he desires. What also doesn’t help the Panthers’ case is that contract discussions last year didn’t go over particularly well, and what’s to say that trend won’t continue with both unable to come to terms on a new long-term deal.
It may ultimately come down to the Panthers’ willingness to spend some money on a key asset of their defense that has been the backbone of the team for the last several seasons. Norman is going to want to cash in on his production like any player rightfully would, which means that the front office will have to meet more than halfway in contract talks to keep its star defensive back. Yes, the team does have the benefit of being one of the top teams in the league, but there are plenty of other franchises that would love to add one of the game’s top cornerbacks.
Carolina will have a little over $20 million to spend this offseason with Norman being the only high priority free agent for the team. This all makes focusing on him a much easier task to do without worrying about losing out on other important players on the team. It would be a significant blow to the Panthers’ secondary if they were to lose out on Norman. He’s the team’s best cornerback that excelled this season with the responsibility of covering the opposing team’s best wide receiver, which has played a big part in helping keep opposing offenses at bay for much of the season and postseason.
The Panthers will have to take the financial hit with Norman likely to command a deal that is similar to that of Richard Sherman’s four-year, $56 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks and Darrelle Revis’s five-year, $70 million deal with the New York Jets. Carolina must look past the total amount of the contract because keeping Norman could be a crucial move that extends the team’s overall success and defensive dominance.