One thing the Washington Redskins want defensively can be summed up in a word: Attitude. It’s why they liked Chris Culliver enough to sign him last offseason. It’s why they liked Dashon Goldson, even though his best days had ended. It’s what general manager Scot McCloughan continues to seek when signing players.
And it’s why McCloughan is ready to sign an elite corner such as Josh Norman after an offseason of prudence, patience and bargain-hunting – all of which were praised. McCloughan has never been one for extravagant free-agent spending, though it must be noted that his first big signing in San Francisco was corner Nate Clements. McCloughan values certain positions more and corner just happens to be one of them (pass rushers are another).
Denver built one of the best defenses in recent memory thanks to pass rushers and excellent corners. The Redskins have a ways to go before reaching that level, but it does help you understand why they’d seemingly switch philosophical gears.
Norman reached a different level in his career last season and will be paid because of it; one coach said this morning that he’s a legitimate top-four corner. He has size (6-foot) and long arms, both attributes McCloughan wants in a corner if at all possible. Of course, many teams want such traits.
But Norman also fits what the Redskins do under defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Norman played a lot of zone in Carolina; the Redskin use a lot of zone under Barry. It’s hard to say Norman is just a product of the scheme when we haven’t seen him in others. But it’s not hard to say he’s a really good corner.
His length mattered in a number of throws last season, where you could see him outstretched and tipping away a pass at the last minute – or intercepting one. His ball skills are terrific; those qualities fit in any scheme. But he certainly benefited from a defensive front seven that caused quarterbacks all sorts of problems. The Redskins still must prove they can do the same, but a healthy Junior Galette and a maturing Preston Smith paired with Ryan Kerrigan will help.
But what the Panthers also did well was stop the run, ranking seventh in the NFL allowing 3.89 yards per carry. Doing so puts the pass rush in better situations and corners such as Norman in an advantageous position. It’s why the Redskins must continue to seek more help for the line (which they plan to do in the draft). If they do, Norman will make plays.
Remember this, however: Defense is as much about attitude as anything. Norman has that and then some. Culliver had that, too, last season before he hurt his knee. Players like that liven up practices, turning everything into competitions. Teammates talked about how Culliver did just that in 2015. Bashaud Breeland plays with a toughness as well. The Redskins will keep looking for such players; you can’t build a tough defense without tough players. Simple, yes, but there were times in the past that was what they tried to do.
It’s always odd when another team fails to keep a player as talented as Norman. Was it for reasons other than finances? Do they just not believe in paying a corner that much? If you have a talented front seven, you probably feel another corner can step in and handle the position. Maybe it's as simple as that for Carolina. Or were there other reasons? Even if there were, the Panthers did go 15-1 last season with Norman being mentioned as a defensive player of the year candidate.
Regardless, the Redskins might benefit. I have a hard time believing they pursue Norman if Culliver weren’t coming off a torn ACL in late November. But he is and to build a good defense you need strong corners; they'd be deep at this position without a doubt.
If Norman does sign, it’ll certainly add juice to the Redskins games vs. Dallas (Dez Bryant) and New York (Odell Beckham Jr.). They also host Carolina next season. I'll also be curious to see how they pull it off financially considering they have just $11.4 million of cap space available, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There are always ways; but curious how they free up cash.
Norman will be at Redskins Park on Friday. How long he sticks around remains to be seen – and could have a big impact on the Redskins in 2016.