In an unexpected and rare move, the Carolina Panthers rescinded cornerback Josh Norman’s non-exclusive franchise tender Wednesday, making the star cornerback an unrestricted free
It was a stunning turn for a Panthers team coming off the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, suddenly putting a Pro Bowl cornerback on the open market six weeks after the start of free agency.
The Panthers say the move was about money – specifically the inability to reach a long-term contract agreement with one of the stars of a team that won 15 regular-season games in 2015 before falling to Denver 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.
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“After a number of conversations with Josh’s agent we realized that a long-term deal was not attainable,” general manager Dave Gettleman said in a statement. “We have decided to rescind the franchise tag, freeing Josh to immediately become a UFA. We thank Josh for all his contributions and truly wish him well.”
Norman’s franchise tag was worth $13.952 million, but he never signed it. He and his agent were waiting for a long-term deal to materialize, and the two sides had until July 15 to reach an agreement.
A league source told the Observer earlier this week that Norman, a fifth-year player, would not report to the start of the team’s voluntary offseason program, set to begin Monday.
Norman was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of $16 million per year, but the Panthers were not interested in paying that much at his position despite Norman’s high level of play in 2015.
Despite the organization’s insistence that Norman’s contract situation wouldn’t be a distraction, the Panthers had strong locker room chemistry during their run to the Super Bowl last season. A lengthy holdout by Norman would have threatened that.
An earlier offer
The Panthers last summer offered Norman a five-year deal worth $37.5 million, with $15.5 million guaranteed. But he decided to bet on himself having a big season that would enhance his market value.
Norman delivered with four interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns, all in the first four games. Several teams stopped challenging Norman, who yielded the lowest passer rating among cornerbacks on balls thrown his direction according to Pro Football Focus.
The Panthers re-opened negotiations with Norman’s agent, Mike George, at February’s scouting combine in Indianapolis, but the sides were never close to an agreement.
Norman, a fifth-round pick in 2012, was looking for a deal along the lines of those signed by Patrick Peterson and Darrelle Revis, averaging at least $14 million a season. But the Panthers used the six-year, $63 million deal signed by Byron Maxwell last year as a comparable and came in with an $11 million a year offer, according to league sources.
Norman’s agent pursued trade
The Panthers gave Norman’s agent permission to pursue a trade at his request, a league source told the Observer. But when that avenue was unsuccessful, the Panthers decided to cut Norman loose rather than deal with the prospect of a holdout that might have dragged into training camp and the preseason.
Norman, who turned 28 in December, is free to sign with any team. Norman’s representatives heard from as many as nine teams Wednesday, including Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Miami and San Francisco, which is $52 million under the salary cap.
Attempts to reach Norman were unsuccessful. Gettleman is scheduled to meet with the media Thursday for a pre-draft press conference.
The Panthers’ draft plans would seem to shift to corner in light of the decision to part ways with Norman. Bené Benwikere is expected to start at one of the corner spots, although the third-year player is coming off a broken leg that cut his 2015 season short in December.
Carolina signed former Eagles and Steelers corner Brandon Boykin in free agency, although Boykin is expected to handle the nickel back duties. Robert McClain, Teddy Williams and Lou Young are the only other corners remaining from last year’s team.
A rare move
Teams don’t often rescind a franchise tag, although the Philadelphia Eagles did so with linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in 2002 and defensive tackle Corey Simon in 2005.
This is the second consecutive time the Panthers have had the franchise tag not go their way. In 2014, the Panthers used the franchise tag on Greg Hardy, but he played in only one game that season with his domestic violence case unresolved.
Norman, who grew up in Greenwood, S.C., and played at Coastal Carolina, had said he wanted to stay with the Panthers. But he also wanted a contract he felt he deserved following his first All-Pro season.
“I’m comfortable where I’m at. Trust and believe,” Norman told the Observer last month. “If I’ve waited this long I can wait on them some more. I got no problem waiting. Waiting got me where I need to be at the end of the day.
“Trust me: Waiting is my specialty.”
But the Panthers grew tired of waiting on Norman.