Josh Norman not taking any chances in a contract year

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- If anybody wondered whether Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman is thinking about his next contract, look at what he said when asked why he carries a walking stick around training camp.

"The wildlife. You've got to be careful with the wildlife around here," Norman said on Saturday. "I don't want to get attacked or anything happen. This is kind of like the contract year, so I don't want anything to go wrong.

"I've got a little raccoon tail there [tied to his backpack] just to discourage them from coming up to me. If anything does take place, we'll whack him and add a little more to that."

Norman was talking about the squirrels and other potential varmints around Wofford College. While there haven't been any reports of attacks, Norman isn't taking any chances.

Yes, it's quirky. But that's one of the qualities that make Norman unique.

Wildlife aside, Norman is becoming a beast for NFL wide receivers. He established himself as the closest thing Carolina has to a shutdown corner last season. He understands with another strong season he'll be due a big contract, probably in the $9-$10 million per year range.

So far, contract talks have been relatively quiet. The Panthers likely won't do anything until after the season.

But Norman, who grew up in Greenwood, South Carolina, attended Coastal Carolina, and has been with the Panthers since the 2012 season, wants to remain a Panther if possible.

"I want to be in Carolina," Norman said. "I've been in Carolina my whole life. Why would I want to go anywhere else? If I want to go somewhere I can just get on a plane and go. But I'd love to be here.

"We'll see what happens. The eye in the sky don't lie."

He is referring to the cameras that clearly show he is Carolina’s top cornerback. Norman believes he's one of the best corners in the NFL, evidenced by the way he shut down Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones and other top receivers in 2014.

"Right now cornerbacks are at a premium," Norman said. ". . . It's only about 10 of us left in the league that can handle the guys like the Julio, the [Dez] Bryants, the Megatrons [Detroit's Calvin Johnson]. You probably can say only a handful.

"You've got to take that into consideration. You've got to look at it overall as the big scheme of things. We're a rare breed. You have to be the most athletic people on the field. Stopping those guys that are running [the 40-yard dash] a 4.2, 4.3 . . . Woo! It's a hard job. Somebody has got to do it, though."

General manager Dave Gettleman told ESPN.com that his frugality in spending in the secondary the past few seasons had more to do with a tight salary cap than how he values that group.

While Norman might think about his next deal, he isn't worried about when, or if, it will come with Carolina.

His goal is to play as best as he can to help Carolina win. He claims to have found a way to separate the business side from the playing side.

"By doing that on the field, I'm not concerned about it, worried about anything that takes place," Norman said. "I'm on a kill mindset."

Squirrels should beware.