Before Carolina’s 37-23 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday, Panthers cornerback Josh Norman spoke with a fine appeals officer to make sure he wouldn’t be penalized for celebrating the pick-six he expected to make later in the day.
In Week 1 he was fined – but not penalized – for waving at the quarterback as he ran into the end zone before mimicking riding a horse. Sunday morning he was told as long as he didn’t taunt the quarterback, he’d be fine to ride again.
So in the first quarter he read Jameis Winston’s eyes, broke on a pass to Brandon Myers and went 46 yards for a touchdown – just like he had anticipated.
Then came the flag for unsportsmanlike conduct after he used the ball as a prop.
“I told him if this happens, this is what I’m going to do. And he was cool,” Norman said. “And it happened and I did it. He said I was fine. If I wasn’t, I would have never done it.
“But at the same time, I’m having fun.”
In four games, Norman has four interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns. Another saved a victory against New Orleans.
Before those interceptions, the Panthers offered Norman a five-year contract worth an average of more than $7 million per year. He declined.
His play has his number going up.
Norman is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman doesn’t negotiate during the season, but could he reconsider during this week’s bye? Perhaps.
But even that possibility, however remote, won’t change anything if the number isn’t right. Norman and his agent would have a strong bargaining chip in the offseason, with impending free agency, giving them slightly more leverage.
“Look man, you can write whatever you want,” Norman said when asked if he’d listen to contract talks during the season. “I’m having fun. And I’m going to continue to have fun regardless. Either way it goes, it’s going to get done. The number’s going to be the number, no matter what. But, at the same time, we’re having fun.”
The number is referring to the average money per season, the barometer for elite cornerbacks. At $10 million, you’re in the conversation. At $12 million, you’re among them. Anything above and you are one of the best in the past decade.
“I’m not (just) another cornerback,” Norman said. “I’m a unique. I’m something else. I’m not those other guys.”
What Norman means is, the other defensive backs aren’t scoring like he is. Darrelle Revis gets $14 million to be a lockdown corner, but he hasn’t returned an interception for a touchdown since 2011.
Richard Sherman gets $14 million a year, too, and he has had two pick-sixes in his five-year career.
Since 2008, only two players have had two interception returns for touchdowns through the first four games of a season – Norman and future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.
Norman is not just keeping points off the board for the opponent. He’s putting points on the board for his team.
The Panthers would argue that’s in the job description anyway. And the quarterbacks he’s done it against? Blake Bortles and Winston.
Working against Norman, and fueling him even more to get as much money as possible, is his age. Norman, a fourth-year player, will be 28 in December. The length of his next contract will be four or five years.
That means by the time this big deal is up, Norman will be 32 or 33. NFL teams aren’t usually inclined to pay big bucks to 33-year-old cornerbacks.
So Norman is living in the moment. Ask him about his current contract situation and he’ll give the glory to God and say he’s happy being 4-0.
But he knows the next contract is where he’s going to make his money – the kind of money that will forever change his life, and his family’s. That has him cherishing everything.
In the locker room after the game he took several minutes removing his jersey from his pads. It was the same blue jersey he wore in Week 1, when he got his first pick-six. He wants to get it framed.
An equipment manager didn’t know Norman wanted to save the jersey and picked it up to put in the laundry with the others. Norman asked around, and they located the jersey, which had not yet been washed.
He was promised it will be in his locker Monday morning, grass stains and all.