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.
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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