<
>

How much is Panthers cornerback Josh Norman worth?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers believe Josh Norman is worth $13,952,000 in 2016, otherwise they wouldn’t have placed the franchise tag on the Pro Bowl cornerback.

But what is Norman worth long-term to the Panthers?

Many offered opinions via social media after a report surfaced recently that Norman, 28, was seeking $16 million a year in a long-term deal.

The consensus? Too much.

That’s understandable considering the salary-cap hell the Panthers were in ($16 million over the cap) before Dave Gettleman took over as general manager in December of 2013.

First, $16 million isn’t a hard number. It’s what Norman possibly could have earned on the open market had the tag not been applied.

In reality, Norman likely would take somewhere between $14 million and $16 million a year to stay with the Panthers. He’s played his entire football career in the Carolinas between Greenwood (S.C.) High, Coastal Carolina (Conway, S.C.) and now the Panthers. His preference is to remain at Carolina.

But Norman also knows this likely is his only shot at a big contract. He topped out at $1,591,750 last season as a Pro Bowl selection, and that was only because of a 59 percent pay raise based on playing time in his first three seasons.

So do the Panthers invest $14 million or more a year long-term on a player that will be 32 at the end of a four-year deal?

Darrelle Revis is the NFL's highest-paid cornerback with an average salary of $14,024,212 with the New York Jets. He is 30 with four more years left on his deal. So age obviously wasn’t a factor there.

Seattle’s Richard Sherman ranks third on the list after Revis and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson ($14,010,000) at $14 million. Sherman is 28 with three more years on his deal. Basically, about where Norman is. Age shouldn’t be a factor.

Norman currently is tied with Trumaine Johnson (Rams) for fourth in average salary among corners. The New York Giants recently rewarded Janoris Jenkins with a five-year, $62.5 million deal that averages out to $12.5 million a year.

The Panthers aren’t even at the $12.5M-a-year range in negotiations, which is why Norman hasn’t signed the tag. There’s no motivation to sign until the sides are close enough that both believe they’re bargaining in good faith.

Gettleman said last week at the NFL owners meeting that he was "very comfortable" having Norman play under the tag. Note that he went beyond comfortable and added "very," so it seems likely that’s where this is headed.

Gettleman likely would feel more comfortable with a long-term deal closer to what Jenkins received. That would give him more flexibility in signing defensive tackle Kawann Short to a long-term deal prior to this season and tackle Star Lotulelei the following year.

Stat-wise, Jenkins and Norman were comparable in 2015. Jenkins had three interceptions, 15 passes defensed and 64 tackles. Norman had four interceptions, 18 passes defensed and 56 tackles.

Norman’s negotiating advantage? Opposing quarterbacks had an average passer rating of 54.0 against him last season, according to Pro Football Focus. No cornerback was better. Jenkins didn’t crack the top six with his rating of 93.8.

Norman considers himself a shutdown corner. He took offense to comments on the NFL Network this week in which the analysts said he wasn’t a shutdown corner and that there currently are no shutdown corners in the NFL.

Norman responded with this:

Earlier this month, during an appearance on ESPN, Norman went so far as to list himself as one of the top five corners in NFL history. His others in order were Dick "Night Train" Lane, Mel Blount, Deion Sanders and Charles Woodson.

Norman has yet to prove he belongs among that group. Some would argue he hasn’t proven he’s worthy of $16 million a year.

Revis has been to seven Pro Bowls, Peterson to five and Sherman to three.

To elevate Norman $2 million a year more than any of them seems like a stretch. Norman didn’t appear on the national spotlight until midway through the 2014 season, and it wasn’t until this past season that he emerged as a star.

But the salary cap has increased significantly -- $133 million to $155 million -- since Peterson and Sherman got their big deals in 2014. It’ll take another jump in 2017. Considering that, $16 million a year isn’t so out of line. If Norman plays under the tag and performs at the level he did this past season, he could demand even more on the open market.

So what is Norman worth to the Panthers? Right now, it’s all about posturing. All we know for sure is $13,952,000 for 2016.