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Changing defensive coordinators might help Redskins accomplish long-standing goal: Maximize Josh Norman

Changing defensive coordinators might help Redskins accomplish long-standing goal: Maximize Josh Norman

UPDATE (7:40 PM): The Cleveland Browns are working on a deal to hire Steve Wilks as their defensive coordinator, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

Three seasons of Josh Norman with the Washington Redskins are in the books. 

The results are good, not great and certainly nowhere Norman’s magical 2015 campaign with the NFC champion Carolina Panthers. Zero playoff appearances, no Pro Bowl berths for the cornerback, zippy top 15 team defensive rankings. 

Neither of the team scenarios falls directly on Norman. His status as the highest paid player on the defensive side warrants scrutiny, which is among the reasons why it’s possible he doesn’t return next season.

So does the way the Redskins coaching staff used the $75 million man. 

We all remember the early debates over why Washington passed on having Norman travel with star receivers in coverage even though that’s not how his former team, the Carolina Panthers, deployed him. Other squabbles emerged with Norman’s role under two defensive coordinators, Joe Barry and Greg Manusky, the current holder of that title.

The corner passed on adding to the discussion the day after Washington’s season ended when asked about whether the coaching staff made the most of his abilities.

“I don't break rank. I don't break rank at all. I try to do what I can do to help out the team. I don't impose my will or Bogart a situation. That's just not who I am as a person. If that's something you want to do, then OK, (then so forth). You got me here, you're the coach, and that's what you pay a player to do is to follow in suit,” Norman said.

Now rumors swirl of a DC switch ahead of the 2019 season. If a change occurs, strongly considering the coach who oversaw Norman’s best career season simply makes too much sense. 

Let’s be clear: Nobody is or should suggest hiring Steve Wilks, Norman’s defensive backs coach in Carolina, becomes a magic elixir for a defensive unit that labored over the second half of 2018. 

Wilks joined the ranks of the unemployed when the Cardinals relieved the former Panthers defensive coordinator of his duties after only one season. Arizona finished 3-13. Cardinals team president Michael Bidwell put ample blame on Wilks’ decision to switch schemes from a 3-4 to a 4-3. 

One year isn’t enough time for such changes to take root. There were other missteps, including with some assistant hires. Wilks also no longer benefited from the presence of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Be leery of acclaim for coordinators when the head coach comes from the same side of the ball, as was the case in Carolina (Please ignore the Jay Gruden-Sean McVay parallel).

The upside of Wilks in Washington stems from his insider knowledge with Norman. 

"It was just a relationship that we built outside of football," Wilks said of Norman ahead of the Week 1 Redskins-Cardinals game this season. "I was able to relate to him and get him to play at his best on the field."

They both joined Carolina in 2012, Norman’s rookie season. By 2015, Carolina turned into NFC champions and Norman a playmaking Pro Bowler attacking offenses from all angles. That version captivated the NFL and had the Redskins swooning when the Panthers made Norman available the following off-season.

Washington continues waiting for THAT version. Norman finished 2015 with four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, three tackles for loss and two touchdowns. Over his three years with the Redskins, six interceptions, two fumble recoveries, three tackles for loss and zero touchdowns. 

Don’t get it twisted. Norman holds down his end as Washington’s top corner. There is also a viable financial reason for his possible release, namely saving $21 million in salary cap space over the next two seasons. 

The release of another talkative defensive back, D.J. Swearinger, may lead to Norman staying. For a team already with a lengthy list of needs, creating a major hole at corner would add another concern.

Adding Wilks may boost Norman’s value should he stay. The reunion might help maximize the cornerback’s strengths.

“Try to stay in rank and do the things you're supposed to do, the things you're asked to do. I do what I'm asked to do. But can I do more, of course,” Norman said. “I would like to come off the edge a couple times, be impactful in that sense. But, I do whatever I'm asked to do and do it to the best of my abilities. That's all I can do, you know.”

Manusky remains the defensive coordinator. Who knows if Wilks would want the job if offered considering the swirling chaos at Redskins Park over the final weeks of the 2018 regular season. There’s value in kicking those tires if the Redskins plan to keep Norman. 

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Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins teams up with Raiders' receiver Antonio Brown for an offseason workout

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Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins teams up with Raiders' receiver Antonio Brown for an offseason workout

With training camp right around the corner, Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins teamed up with the most high-profile Oakland Raiders' offseason acquisition, wide receiver Antonio Brown. 

Brown and Haskins went through a private route session that featured some pretty impressive ball placement and one-handed snags. 

This isn't the first time Haskins and Brown have worked with each other. In 2018 Haskins spent his spring break on the beach in South Florida throwing to "AB" and Falcons wide receiver, Mohamed Sanu. 

Haskins has also got some work in with other NFL talent this offseason as just last week he posted a post-workout photo with Indianapolis Colts wide receiver, Parris Campbell Jr.; Haskins and Campbell were teammates at Ohio State last season.

There's an old adage that "you're only as good as the company you keep," if this is the case Redskins fans have a lot to look forward to from "Simba" this season. 

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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

7) Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

6) After losing Reuben Foster, how's the Redskins LB situation?

5) Will potential match production for Redskins WRs?

When a team picks in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, folks around the NFL expect that player to become a Pro Bowler. For Washington, that exact scenario unfolded with right guard Brandon Scherff. 

Mostly. 

Selected fifth overall in 2015, the Redskins took Scherff to play right tackle and anchor the offensive line opposite Trent Williams. That idea quickly faded, helped by the emergence of Morgan Moses, and Scherff moved inside to play guard. For four years, it's worked out great, with Pro Bowl selections in 2016 and 2017. 

Scherff is a mauler in the best sense of the word. He has great footwork and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has called the former Iowa Hawkeye the best pulling guard in the NFL. Scherff is strong and nasty, words that won't win beauty pageants but absolutely win in the trenches of the NFL. 

Considering all of that, a contract extension for Scherff should be easy. Right?

Wrong. 

Currently in the final year of his rookie deal, multiple reports stretching over the last six weeks indicate that the organization is way off in their extension offers to Scherff. He might not command the biggest contract in the league, but he will get paid like a top three guard. In 2019, that means a lot of money.

Cowboys guard Zach Martin makes $14 million a year. Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell makes $13.3 million a year. Scherff might not get to Martin's salary, but he will probably get to Norwell, whether Washington pays it or not.

That means the Redskins need to pony up the cash now because as each day passes, the team is approaching an ugly set of options. Scherff and his representatives might continue to negotiate during the season, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Once free agency becomes in view, players tend to wait for it. Just ask Kirk Cousins. 

In fact, the situation between Scherff and the Redskins has some resemblance to the Cousins saga from a few years ago. 

In that case, Washington low-balled their homegrown quarterback in their first set of negotiations. From there, things went sideways, and the team used consecutive franchise tags on Cousins before he finally left via free agency. 

If the Redskins can't get a deal done with Scherff, the team could use a franchise tag in 2020. But that's a dangerous game of roulette. 

The time to get a deal done with Scherff is now, if not last month. Redskins team president has said in the past that deadlines drive deals, but with Scherff, there is no exact deadline. He can decide to stop working on a contract extension at any moment, particularly once the pads come on at training camp. 

The Trent Williams holdout might be complicating things a bit, if Williams only wants more cash and the issue isn't about much more than that. The truth is a Scherff extension would actually free up cap space in the short term, as his signing bonus would be spread out over the life of the contract, and some of that salary cap relief could go to Williams right away. 

Williams' status isn't the hold up between Scherff and the Redskins. Whatever is the actual holdup best be resolved soon, or the Redskins are beginning down an all too familiar franchise path.

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