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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