In a bit of stunning news the Carolina Panthers have agreed to remove the franchise tag on Josh Norman making him an unrestricted free agent. The Panthers were unable to come to a long term agreement with Norman and decided it was best to just move on rather than pay him $13.952 million for the season. This is not something that is common in the NFL. I think its happened maybe once in the last decade. So lets look at a few things concenring the move.
Its important to understand that the franchise tag is not really a good thing for either side. For players they receive no long term job security. For teams its often throwing big money for one season at a player for no good reason. Usually you use the tag to maintain negotiating rights and leverage a better contract with the threat of injury looming over a player’s head. But if that does not work ll you do is harm yourself long term. If you agree to a deal the following year the player is already a year older and the on field value declines even though the cost does not. Its a one year rental and how many one year rentals do we see in the NFL for $14 million? None.
On this site weve discussed for awhile the unique case with Norman. Norman is an older first time free agent (he’ll be 29 this season) and prior to this year was looked at as a 1A more than than 1. Norman had a fantastic season and got an incredible amount of media publicity in his walk year but the lessons of Byron Maxwell last year in Philly were going to damage a player like Norman. It also did not help him that Darrelle Revis, at 30, looked far more mortal than the Revis Island player we had all grown to know. Combine it all and its difficult to just throw him $14 million a year or whatever he was looking for if you are a cautious organization.
The free agent cornerbacks this year almost all proved to be a dud with the exception of Janoris Jenkins who signed right out of the gates with the Giants. His closest comparable would be Sean Smith, the 29 year old who played last year in Kansas City. Smith signed in Oakland for $9.5 million a season with $15 million fully guaranteed and $20.5 million paid in two years. That is probably what the Panthers see as the market for Norman.
If the Panthers see that as a fair market there is no reason for them to use the tag on Norman. If they pay him $14 million this season he will earn far more than $20.5 million over two years if they sign him after the year. His guarantees would also run through 2018 rather than 2017. Carolina just recently dug themselves out of a three year cap nightmare. They need to set a stage for future decisions and sensible cap management. That makes a player like Norman expendable.
Nothing precludes Norman from returning to Carolina. Carolina released Charles Johnson earlier this year when he was resistant to a pay cut. Johnson found that the market for him was quite limited and opted to come back to Carolina rather than take a one year deal in an unfamiliar place that was offering more but not a life changing amount more. It is truly letting the market bring high expectations way down.
The timing of the move benefits the Panthers. Most teams by now have spent their money and won’t be looking to spend much more. They are fully in draft prep mode and most likely never even gave Norman a thought since he was under the tag and nobody expected him to be released. That doesnt mean nobody is interested, just that it will be less than if he was a free agent in March. The Jaguars would be the most logical team to make a big play, but if they are bidding against nobody they may not go overboard either. Most teams at this stage would give one year “prove it” contracts to someone. Clearly that wont be the case here as hell wind up back in Carolina.
I doubt that this signals that the Panthers are going to make some other big move. I guess its possible they could be looking to trade for a receiver like Jeffrey, but most likely this is just a shrewd move designed to manage expectations and future cap room. It is an eye on long term prospects and that is the most important thing to do in the NFL to maintain success. With Normans release the Panthers should have the 4th most cap room in the NFL to roll over to the future.