The NFL’s free agent period got quite a bit more interesting on Wednesday when the Carolina Panthers rescinded the franchise tag offer to Josh Norman, making him a free agent.
Norman is now free to go to any of the NFL’s 32 teams, but some make more sense than others. While he’d certainly help any team, some squads could use his services more than others. Those are the teams we’re looking at today.
Which are the five teams that should bring Josh Norman aboard?
1. Carolina Panthers
At the moment, this looks like it won’t happen.
Panthers GM Dave Gettleman: "After a number of conversations with Josh’s agent, we realized that a long-term deal was not attainable."
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) April 20, 2016
Now, we’ve heard those kind of quotes regarding free agents in the past and sometimes, the two parties have still found a way to work it out.
But even if we assume that they won’t make it work and that this is a split, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t reunite. Norman is the best fit for the Panthers (and vice versa) and really, it’s obvious.
Norman and the Panthers obviously worked very well together last year. The team went 15-1 and won an NFC Championship.
They ranked only 11th in passing yards allowed, but no team had more passes attempted against them. That’s a product of being up in basically every game. Carolina allowed only 6.2 yards per reception, which was tied with the Denver Broncos for best in the league.
It’s not coincidental that those two teams had their conference’s best records and met in the Super Bowl. In today’s NFL, teams have to contain the pass to win. Given that the Panthers share a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan (Julio Jones), and an emerging Jameis Winston, their secondary will be tested. If it’s going to be tested, having a DB like Josh Norman is a good thing.
The Panthers also now have nearly $31 million in cap space, so they’ve got the money to lock him up to a long term deal. Why mess with a good thing if you don’t have to, right? Norman would be a great idea for many teams, but none more so than Carolina.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely that this marriage would work out.
2. San Francisco 49ers
As things stand right now, the 49ers are likely looking at Tramaine Brock and Kenneth Acker as their starting corners. Is that really the duo can help San Francisco rebuild? Remember, they have to face face Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer (and Arizona’s deep group of receivers), and whichever quarterback the Los Angeles Rams decide to take with the first pick twice a year?
If you want to rebuild with them, we salute your optimism, but question your grip on reality.
Looking at the business end of this, the 49ers have more than $52.5 million in cap space. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have more. They can definitely afford Norman.
From the practical football point of view, San Francisco allowed the sixth most passing yards in the NFL in 2015. Only the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, and Chicago Bears intercepted fewer passes. Only the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns allowed more yards per reception.
So to recap, Norman is one of the best corners in the game. The 49ers badly need to bolster their secondary and have plenty of money.
Seems like a match made in heaven.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars’ pass defense doesn’t look quite as bad as San Francisco’s, but they still need a lot of help.
Jacksonville ranked right in the middle of the pack in yards per catch allowed, and like the 49ers it intercepted only nine passes during the season.
Also, while Davon House, Aaron Colvin, and Prince Amukamara don’t make for a terrible trio of cornerbacks, it’s certainly a position that can be upgraded.
This also works because with nearly $55 million to spend, the Jags have an abundance of cap space.
Lastly, heading into the season the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, and Tennessee Titans don’t exactly make for the scariest competitors. Remember, the AFC South was won last season by Houston with a 9-7 record.
If the Jaguars can solidify their defense, they’re in a very winnable division. Norman can help them, especially the passing defense. If this move happens, it would not be outrageous to call Jacksonville the AFC South favorites in 2016.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As we’ve already mentioned, defenses in the NFC South are going to be tested by strong passing games. Tampa’s defense obviously doesn’t have to deal with Jamies Winston, but it does have to contend with Drew Brees, the Matt Ryan/Julio Jones duo and Cam Newton. Happy birthday!
Like the Jaguars, the Buccaneers didn’t have an abysmal passing defense in 2015, but it was squarely mediocre. The Bucs and Jags finished tied for 11th most yards allowed per pass. Tampa also tied for the fifth-most touchdown passes allowed and was tied for 21st in interceptions. That’s just not going to cut it if you want to be a true contender, especially in that division.
Tampa doesn’t quite have the cap space of Carolina, San Francisco, or Jacksonville, but it does have the ninth-most cap space in the NFL, coming in $16.2 million under. That should give the front office a pretty good place to start.
Also, the Buccaneers would give Norman the added incentive of getting to go against the team that spurned him twice a year. It’s hard to think that he wouldn’t be even a little more motivated than normal in that situation.
5. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens, once known for their stingy defense, didn’t exactly frighten opponents in 2015, ranking 17th in yards per reception. Opponents passed for 30 touchdown passes against Baltimore, which was tied for the ninth-worst total in the league.
— KNBR (@KNBR) October 18, 2015
Worst of all, opponents had no reason to be afraid of passing on Baltimore, as its six interceptions was worst in the NFL.
Even if we assume that Hue Jackson and Robert Griffin III will flop with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens secondary has their work cut out for them.
Going against Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and the incredibly deep group of receivers employed by the the Pittsburgh Steelers twice a year is no picnic.
The same can be said about Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
In addition to the division rivals, the past five AFC Champions have either been the New England Patriots or have beaten them in the AFC Championship Game. So, a trip back to the Super Bowl probably means a date with Tom Brady.
Baltimore has just a shade under $12.5 million in cap space, so while the team would be pressed, the front office should be able to make this work.