An interesting move was made when the Carolina Panthers rescinded the franchise tag and let cornerback Josh Norman become an unrestricted free agent. As soon as the news broke, people could practically hear every NFL team looking at their books for contracts to move around just to have a chance to sign the best corner from 2015-2016 (sorry Josh you are not the best corner in the game). In a market where Norman will surely command $15 million a year on a long term contract, the Panthers needed to pay up or let him walk.
The Panthers realized that they could not or would not pay Norman that amount of money, taking off the franchise tag and wishing him the best. Sure, the chance that Norman returns is there but that looks very minimal as he is set to visit the Washington Redskins on Friday. Oh just imagine the fines that will be dealt out if he and Odell Beckham Jr. face off twice a year!
No franchise would ever look at something like this and say that letting go of their best cornerback and their best defensive player as being a good move.
That does not mean that this was not a smart move for the franchise. Sure the fans may be upset and angry, but the Panthers are building a championship contender the right way. They are finding players who buy into the system and into the team, making sure no one takes a “me first” approach. They have a ferocious front seven that can and will get after the quarterback so they do not need all-world corners on the back end.
This move parallels what the New England Patriots did the season before, letting Kyle Arrington, Darrelle Revis, and Brandon Browner leave in free agency. Browner was a bust in New Orleans, Revis did not look the same in New York, and Arrington faded away with the Baltimore Ravens. Now Norman certainly is off a different caliber, he is a top corner in the prime of his career and many teams would be happy to pay a premium for that. The Panthers though have a different value on corners now and Norman was just too much for their system.
Harkening back to what the Patriots did last off-season, Bill Belichick built up a vicious front seven, and he knew that his secondary would not need to hold up for that long. Sure having Malcolm Butler emerge as an excellent corner, and Logan Ryan overachieving did help. Yet this is the best example of what the Panthers are going for on defense. Carolina is taking a page from the Patriot way as they are building their own Panther way. Whether or not Panthers fans want to admit it now or not, that is a smart move because in the NFL anyone can and will be replaced. Norman certainly is not the exception.