For seven weeks the franchise tag the Panthers had placed on their Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman went unsigned.
All the document needed was Norman’s signature to guarantee a $13.95 million salary for a season for the Panthers’ fifth-round pick from 2012. But Norman and his agent Mike George sought to gain what leverage they could by not signing the tag, a strategy also employed by Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller and New York Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.
But when Norman was “blindsided” last Wednesday by the news the Panthers were pulling the tag, he contacted team officials saying he was finally ready to sign it, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.
But it was too late: The Panthers’ front office had already notified the league it was rescinding the tag.
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The move sent shockwaves around the league and put one of the league’s top cornerbacks on the market as an unrestricted free agent. Two days later Norman signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Washington, including $36.5 million in guaranteed money, according to reports.
It was a whirlwind 48 hours for Norman, who – despite tense and unproductive negotiations with the Panthers – didn’t think his original team would cut him loose
“It came out of nowhere. It really did,” Norman told Washington’s official website Friday. “I got sideswiped – I didn’t see it coming.”
Norman scrambled to contact the Panthers to try to sign the tag, a development first reported by the Washington Post in a story posted Sunday.
But it was George’s tough stance and his unwillingness to budge a $16 million-a-year contract demand that prompted Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman to take back the tag, according to the source.
The Panthers offered Norman a four-year deal worth $44 million, according to another league source. That $11 million annual average would have put Norman about $3 million behind the league’s highest-paid corners.
There was no progress in the talks, and the Observer reported last week the Panthers gave Norman’s agent permission to seek a trade. While the Post reported the San Francisco 49ers and L.A. Rams expressed interest, the trade talks never resulted in a deal.
Gettleman told reporters at the owners meetings last month he was OK with Norman playing under the tag this season.
But Gettleman said last week the longer the process dragged on, the more convinced he became a long-term deal wasn’t possible. He began thinking about the roster flexibility the Panthers would gain with the $14 million they had earmarked for Norman.
“As we got deeper in conversations, we realized there was a significant difference between our thoughts and theirs. The intervening weeks gave us additional time to evaluate where we are going as a franchise,” Gettleman said last week. “With the realization that a deal was not going to get done, our internal conversations kept leading us to the fact that the one-year deal was becoming less and less attractive.”
A day after the tag was rescinded, Norman hired Ryan Williams as his new agent and tried to fire George, according to the Post. But Norman would have been forced to wait five days to sign with a new team had he fired George, so he agreed to keep him on as co-representative.
Washington made Norman the richest corner in NFL history based on per-year average. Norman’s $15 million a year average is more than Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson, all of whom are around $14 million.
Norman and several family members and associates flew to Washington on Friday on the team’s private plane. And while New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees reportedly was willing to restructure his contract to create cap space for the Saints to sign Norman, Washington was able to finalize the deal with a corner who allowed the lowest quarterback rating in the league last season.
Norman grew up in the Carolinas (Greenwood, S.C.), went to school at Coastal Carolina and said several times he wanted to stay with the Panthers. Instead, he’ll line up against them Dec. 19 when Carolina visits Washington in a Monday night game.
“Being somewhere 28 years all your life and just in a blink of an eye, gone, just like that, I’ve just never been without a job,” Norman told the Washington team website. “That small amount of hours, everything went rapid and I came up here and it just felt right.”
When/where: Thursday-Saturday, Chicago.
First round: 8 p.m. Thursday (ESPN, ESPN2, NFL Network)
Panthers’ pick: No. 30