Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman isn’t scared to use the franchise tag this offseason, and if he does, it will almost certainly be on All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman.
Norman, who’s set to be an unrestricted free agent in March, is a prime candidate to be tagged, which means he’ll be with the Panthers for 2016 with guaranteed money upwards of $13 million for next season.
“I’ve used it before,” Gettleman said Tuesday. “I’m not shy. I’m not afraid of it. After we evaluate everything, we’re going to do what we think is in the best interests of the Carolina Panthers.”
The Panthers and Norman tried to reach a contract extension in the preseason, but Norman felt the team’s offer of about $7 million per year was too low.
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He bet on himself in 2015, and it paid off.
Norman, a fifth-round pick in 2012 out of Coastal Carolina who earned $1.59 million this year, emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. He shot to the national stage with four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, in the first four weeks of the season.
After that, quarterbacks became more judicious about throwing Norman’s way. Norman, 28, earned his first Pro Bowl selection and was named to the All-Pro first team with Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson.
I’ll use whatever mechanism is available. That’s part of roster building.
Panthers GM Dave Gettleman, on his willingness to use the franchise tag
Teams can apply the franchise tag to players set to be unrestricted free agents if they do not reach long-term deals. The tag carries a salary equivalent to the average yearly salary of the top five players at that position.
Last year, the tag was $13.075 million for cornerbacks, and it’s expected to go up slightly in 2016 when the salary cap for next season is established.
Gettleman has used the tag only once – in the offseason before the 2014 season with Greg Hardy. The Panthers gave Hardy a guaranteed $13.1 million, and he played in just one game before sitting out the other 15 because of his misdemeanor domestic violence case. Those charges were eventually dismissed.
“I’ll use whatever mechanism is available,” Gettleman said of his willingness to use the tag. “That’s part of roster building. You look at this team we’ve put together, and it’s been through the draft, after draft signings, unrestricted free agent signings, street free agent signings, trades, claims. We’ve done it all. We’ll do what we think is in the best interest of the Carolina Panthers. That’s just the way we operate.”
Norman did not stop in the locker room Tuesday when approached by an Observer reporter. He has indicated in the past that he wants to remain with the Panthers and in the Carolinas, where he has spent his entire life.
But he has made it clear he wants and expects to get paid. Norman considers himself among the elite in the NFL, and he has the accolades this season to back that up.
Peterson, Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis – all of whom are considered elite cornerbacks – have reached long-term deals with their respective teams in the past two seasons. Peterson and Revis have five-year deals and Sherman has a four-year deal in Seattle. All three of those players average about $14 million per year.
But Gettleman also made it clear that he’s not going to sell the farm to keep just one player. The general manager, entering his fourth offseason and fourth draft with the Panthers, has other salary cap issues to navigate.
Gettleman would not say how much of a priority Norman is this offseason.
“I don’t want to go there,” Gettleman said. “You’re never only one player away. You’re not. I know you people look at me like I have brain damage, but you’re not. I’ve seen it over and over and over again.”