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Redskins Depth Chart: Has Josh Norman lived up to his contract?

Redskins Depth Chart: Has Josh Norman lived up to his contract?

The Redskins pay Josh Norman to be the top cornerback in the NFL. Over the last two seasons, Norman has made $37 million, and he's slated to make another $15 million in 2019. 

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That's a lot of money, and even coming off his best season in Washington, there's an easy case that Norman is being overpaid. 

Last year, Norman accounted for seven turnovers - three interceptions, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. That's strong production from a ballhawk, but his overall play was not elite. Pro Football Focus rated Norman the 69th best cornerback in the NFL last year. 

Despite no Pro Bowl appearances in three years with the Redskins, Norman has played relatively well. The scheme has never been a true fit for Norman's skill set; he's too often caught trying to run laterally against smaller, quicker receivers. Norman's strength is his physicality and hip turn running vertically, not chasing faster guys across the middle of the field. 

If the question is simply has Norman lived up to the five-year, $75 million contract he signed with the Redskins in 2016, the answer is no. With Washington, he's never been the top cornerback in the league, even though he's been paid to be the top cornerback in the league. 

That's not the question though, or shouldn't be anyway. That money has already been spent, and it's a sunk cost. 

The more important question now: Should the Redskins pay Norman another $15 million for the 2019 season? And if they don't, what else do they have?

Answering the first part is a tricky scenario. Norman will turn 32 this season, and it's highly unlikely he will have a career renaissance to turn the clock back to 2015, when he was the best corner in the league playing for Carolina. He will be the second highest paid cornerback in the NFL. Put those two things together, and slip in that Norman's deal carries no guaranteed money and Washington could save $11.5 million against the cap with a post-June 1 release, and maybe it doesn't make sense to keep the loquacious corner. 

The other side of that coin, however, is who will the Redskins line up on the field on Sundays. 

Quinton Dunbar played well in 2018 when he finally got the chance to start. In six starts, he made two interceptions and added 39 tackles. Pro Football Focus ranked him nearly 20 spots ahead of Norman. 

Dunbar looked like he was on his way to taking over the mantle as the Redskins No. 1 cornerback. Then he got hurt, a mysterious nerve injury in his leg, and ended the season on injured reserve. Assuming Dunbar is all the way back from the injury, and that's not a given until he's again seen running full speed consistently, he could emerge as the 'Skins best cover guy this fall. 

But when it comes to cornerbacks, it's better to have lots of options. Norman and Dunbar on the field together give the Washington defense their best chance. After those two, there are nothing but question marks. 

What role should Fabian Moreau have? The Redskins tried to install him as their slot cornerback last season, and the results weren't great. He had one pick and five passes defenses and played all 16 games, but Pro Football Focus graded him out as a -6.2 and had him outside the Top 100 cornerbacks. Moreau might be best suited to play outside, but with Norman and Dunbar, he's not getting either of those spots. 

A third-round pick in 2017, Moreau barely played as a rookie. In some ways, last season was a trial by fire for him, and 2019 could be much better. He has the physical tools and now the game might slow down with a better understanding of concepts.

Beyond that, last year the Redskins kept three late round rookies on their roster: Adonis Alexander, Greg Stroman and Danny Johnson.

All three showed brief flashes why they were drafted, but the bad outweighed the good with all of them. Alexander has great size for the position and should have an inside track on a roster spot, but Stroman and Johnson are no sure things. 

This offseason, Washington added veteran Dominique Rodgers Cromartie in free agency and drafted JMU CB Jimmy Moreland in the seventh round.

With Rodgers-Cromartie, he needs to get through a full training camp. A 12-year veteran, DRC walked away from the Raiders after seven games last season. Retired. Done with football. Now he's back, and reunited with former Giants teammate Landon Collins, but will that be enough to push him through the inevitable hardships of an NFL season?

Despite being a seventh-round pick, Moreland has some Redskins coaches excited. In some ways, the hype around Moreland feels reminiscent to 2018 seventh-round pick Trey Quinn. Moreland played college at James Madison, a strong football program on the second collegiate level, but proved a willingness to make plays. He made 18 interceptions in college and returned six of them for touchdowns. Former Redskins Fred Smoot believes Moreland could push for the slot corner job this year, which would be remarkable progress for a seventh-round pick out of a small school. 

Add all of that up, and the future for Josh Norman looks murky. 

A year from now, it's nearly impossible to see Norman still with the Redskins. Washington will know if Dunbar has returned fully from injury and what the team has in Alexander, Moreau and Moreland. Norman will be turning 33 and making $15.5 million. That math won't add up, particularly when the salary for Landon Collins will more than triple from $4 million this season to $15 million in 2020. 

But this season? Norman makes too much money for his level of play, but collectively, the Redskins aren't paying their cornerbacks all that much. The team ranks 15th in the NFL in positional spending at corner, with the entire group making about $22.5 million.

Washington has already navigated free agency and the draft and remains about $10 million below the salary cap. That gives them enough cash to add players throughout the season as needed should injuries come up. There are advantages to rolling over salary cap space year to year, but right now, the 'Skins are not pressed for cash.

Should a veteran free agent emerge after June 1 cuts, particularly at a position of need like wide receiver or pass rusher, then things could look different. There is a lot of money to be saved by releasing Norman this year. 

Right now, however, it doesn't seem likely. 

During the annual league meetings in March, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden got pressed about Norman's future in Washington. The coach summed up the situation well.

"To say he’s performed as the best cornerback in the National Football League would be far fetched, but I will say this: I’m glad we got him. I think not having Josh Norman, our team would be not quite as competitive as we have been with Josh Norman and I think moving forward having Josh Norman on this roster is going to help us get where we want to go."

That sounds right for 2019. That tune probably changes in 2020. 

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Are the expectations for Chase Young too high in 2020?

Are the expectations for Chase Young too high in 2020?

The expectations for No. 2 overall pick Chase Young are sky high, and for good reason.

Young, the Redskins first-round selection, was considered a generational prospect by many draft experts. As a junior at Ohio State, he led the country with 16.5 sacks in just 12 games. Young was a Heisman Trophy finalist, just the ninth defensive player to do so since 1982, and the winner of the Bednarik Award, given to college football's best defensive player. He's earned comparisons to Julius Peppers and other great edge rushers before him.

While the hype might be justified, Rotoworld's Josh Norris wonders if the expectations for Chase Young are too high for his rookie season.

"I do wonder, on a bad team, how much of an impact someone like Chase Young can have on the overall scheme," Norris said in a recent interview with the Redskins Talk podcast.

While Norris' take on Young might be different than many, his opinion on the Redskins as a whole is not. Across the NFL and in the national media, not many expect the Redskins to be very good in 2020. After all, they won just three games in 2019 and didn't sign any big-time free agents, with cornerback Kendall Fuller being Washington's biggest offseason addition not from the draft.

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The organization underwent a massive overhaul this past offseason, most notably bringing in head coach Ron Rivera and firing longtime team president Bruce Allen. But there's no telling whether those front office changes will directly result in wins, and the head coach admitted himself that turning around a franchise doesn't happen overnight.

However, what's interesting about Norris's comments wondering how Young will fit in is that the Redskins defensive front is by far the best unit on the team, which could have been said even before the addition of Young.

The unit disappointed a tad in 2019, but a large portion of that could be blamed on former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's system, which was complex and often had players playing out of position. New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has already stated that he will run a simpler scheme that allows his players to play fast and instinctual.

Plus, the Redskins defensive line is already full of talent. Young is Washington's fourth first-round pick the team has used on a defensive lineman since 2017, and the Ohio State pass rusher was the best prospect of all of them. If teams decide to key-in on the rookie, guys like Montez Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan and Ryan Anderson will all benefit on the other side.

"The Redskins have invested heavily in that front four, five, six and seven for years and years," Norris said. "[Montez] Sweat, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Kerrigan, obviously, that was 10 years ago, but then you have Ryan Anderson as well. That's already a ton of investment that a lot of teams haven't been able to have."

With Allen, Payne and Matt Ioannidis in the middle, the Redskins should be able to apply pressure on the quarterback from their interior defensive line, something Rivera's units have had success with in the past.

"We know Ron Rivera's background is on the defensive side of the ball," Norris said. "He actually struggled for quite some time to find that premier edge rusher with the Panthers. They had Charles Johnson for a long time, they had Mario Addison, they brought back Julius Peppers, drafted Brian Burns last year. But a lot of their disruption when Dave Gettleman was there was from the interior as well."

What the Redskins have done with their defensive front over the past four years has drawn many parallels to the San Francisco 49ers defense from a year ago. From 2015-2017, the 49ers used a first-round pick on three defensive linemen, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas, before adding the final piece to the line in No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa last year.

As a rookie in San Francisco, Bosa's presence completely transformed the 49ers' defense. The 49ers finished the 2019 season ranked second in total defense, compared to their 20th ranking the year prior. Bosa's nine sacks were the second-most on the team. The addition of Bosa was a large reason the 49ers went from a 4-12 football team in 2018 to a Super Bowl appearance in 2019.

Norris understands the comparisons between the two. But the analyst believes there's another factor that the 49ers had that helped turn around their season a year ago. one that the Redskins simply don't have the luxury of (well, anymore, that is).

"I know people are going to compare this, potentially, to the San Francisco 49ers defense last year with how many first and second-round picks were spent along that front four, front seven," Norris said. "But that's with Kyle Shanahan calling plays. I like Scott Turner, but he's no Kyle Shanahan. Few are, if any."

In 2019, the 49ers offense ranked fifth in time of possession, while the Redskins finished dead last. As a result, the 49ers defense was one of the most rested in the NFL, while no defense was on the field more than Washington's a year ago. San Francisco's unit was often fresh in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line, while the Burgundy and Gold's was often gassed.

Young will undoubtedly make the Redskins defense better in 2019, and Norris isn't arguing that.

What the analyst is questioning is whether Young's impact is "going to equal a big optic in the win/loss column" and while Norris says the pass rusher is "a fantastic prospect," he's not sure that it will.

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Peyton Manning's rookie year shows why Redskins should be patient with Dwayne Haskins, one former GM says

Peyton Manning's rookie year shows why Redskins should be patient with Dwayne Haskins, one former GM says

As the Redskins set to begin a new era of Washington football, Dwayne Haskins' development in Year 2 as a full-time starter will likely dictate where the team goes in the short term. 

Based on his production last season, it's hard to pinpoint who Washington fans should expect under center. The player who completed 54% of his passes for an average of 165.3 yards per game and got sacked 18 times over his first four starts, or the guy who completed over 67% of his passes for five touchdowns and just one interception over his last three games.

If you ask longtime executive and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian, inconsistency isn't new for young quarterbacks. With Haskins entering his second season in the NFL having to learn a new offense under Scott Turner after just one year of starting experience in college, Polian acknowledged the young signal-caller needs to be afforded some time. 

"Dwayne Haskins is essentially a work in progress," Polian said on The Sports Junkies Monday. "You've got to give him a chance to get his feet wet and feel comfortable in the offense -- he's going to be learning a new offense -- but he has the tools and the thing that's nice about him is that he can do it with his feet and he can do it with his arm. And he seems to me to have the kind of poise and approach to things that you need in a quarterback."

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Polian has one of the colder takes of recent memory after suggesting Lamar Jackson should move to wide receiver, but make no mistake, he's an all-time great general manager. He helped build the Bills teams that made it to four straight Super Bowls and began an incredible run with the Colts by drafting Peyton Manning, who didn't exactly start his career off on the right foot. 

"It's going to come slowly, it does for every quarterback," he said. "Peyton [Manning] had an awful rookie year, but the arrow was up when [his career] was over. He learned a lot from the experience. I think Dwayne has already learned a lot and he'll be a lot better this year, but it'll take him time to learn a new system."

As a rookie, Manning threw a league-high 28 interceptions and only managed to lead the Colts to a 3-13 record. Indianapolis stuck with their guy, and he turned into one of the all-time greats. 

This doesn't mean Haskins is going to become the next Peyton Manning or that's where the expectation should be. But players like Manning, Drew Brees and Troy Aikman serve as an example for quarterbacks that bounced back from underwhelming rookie seasons.

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