While the Panthers’ decision to rescind the franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman has many layers and ripple effects, one thing is clear—they sure could have used him this year.
With Norman last year, the Panthers allowed an average of 6.2 yards per pass attempt. That was the best in the NFL. This year they are allowing almost a yard and a half more per attempt; they are 22nd in the NFL allowing 7.6 per pass.
A stat via ESPN highlights the effects of the absence of a cornerback like Norman even more. Last year the Panthers allowed an average of 90.5 yards per game on passes outside the numbers, the fewest in the NFL. This year they are allowing 148.9 yards per game, last in the league.
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The big number is wins and losses. A year ago they were 13-0, on their way to 15-1 and a Super Bowl appearance. They are now 5-8 and on the verge of playoff elimination. It’s not all due to Norman; they have been hit hard by injuries, especially on the offensive line. But subtracting the first-team All-Pro cornerback from the equation unquestionably has done some damage.
One could forgive Norman if he enjoyed a few moments of schadenfreude over the plight of his old team. But given the opportunity to do some gloating, Norman took the high road when asked about the Panthers’ struggled.
“I don’t like to kick people when they’re down so that’s a thing that I don’t, I haven’t been taught to do,” he said. “I just see how you come up in a system and you know the guys and you build that bond and everyone knew where you were at at that very moment in time. Then one of those cogs from the system absolutely, abruptly departs and then you try to fill that void and that hole, I mean, shoot, just like anything else, it’s going to take time.”
The thing is, you don’t always have time in the NFL. The Panthers had a good mix of a productive offense with Cam Newton at quarterback and a hammering defense. After going 15-1 and losing in the Super Bowl the conventional wisdom is that you should hold on to the key pieces that got you to the doorstep of the championship because you don’t know when you will have the right mix of players again. If you can hold on to an All-Pro at a high-impact position such as cornerback for another year you do it, even at a high price and even if you don’t think you will be able sign him to a long-term deal, you do it.
But general manager Dave Gettleman decided to pull the tag from Norman and set him free just a couple of weeks before the draft. Sometimes doing the unconventional thing works; in this case, at least in the short term, it hasn’t.
Given another chance to take a shot at Gettleman and the Panthers organization, Norman again chose not to.
“I don’t get up because people fail,” he said. “That’s on them. I don’t have anything to do with that. My success is determined by where I’m at and what I do for the team or organization that I’m with. I was there one point in time, had fun, was successful, but I’m here now and it’s kind of like, you know, I want to be successful here more so than I do anywhere else.”
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Make no mistake, Norman isn’t taking the “this is just one of 16 games” tack. Although he said that he didn’t start thinking about this game until this week, he acknowledged that this one will be different. He was asked about containing his emotions when Monday night comes around.
“I don’t know if emotions ever do because now I just let them run wild,” he said. “So whatever you see is what you’re going to get. But I do know how to contain it to a certain extent. But then again, I just let the fire go that’s inside and I don’t know how to pretty much shut it off once it gets started. So it’s kind of one of those things where it’s going to be a different feel. Definitely. it’s going to be a different feel, I know that. Just because coming in earlier in the week, I paid attention to detail and then I saw something and I was like, OK, now [that] reminds me back of practice again.”
We will see what happens when Norman lets the fire go on Monday night.