The Carolina Panthers made surprising headlines Wednesday, as the reigning NFC Champions rescinded the franchise tag on shutdown cornerback Josh Norman–effectively making him an unrestricted free agent.
Could the Indianapolis Colts be a potential suitor?
At age 28, Norman is one of the best cornerbacks in football. He’s coming off a breakout season in which he started all 16 games for the Panthers, recording 56 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles on his way to earning 1st Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors respectively.
Not to mention, he had the lowest passer rating when targeted by opposing quarterbacks:
Also helping the Colts cause is that Norman apparently grew up a Colts fan, as he idolized the franchise’s legendary quarterback Peyton Manning during his childhood:
"“Ever since 1999, 2000, I’ve been a Colts fan,” Norman said during the week leading up to Super Bowl 50. “He was their quarterback. He was one of the main reasons I was a Colts fan. The guy was just unbelievable at what he did. He had the weapons, (former Colts WRs) Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley, (former Colts TE) Dallas Clark. Every time I picked up the controller with friends, I ended up putting up 50 points. It was like ‘P freaking M,’ he was going ham. Every time we scored, I would let them know about it.”"
Norman made it a point and sought out Manning to offer his congratulations during Super Bowl 50’s closing seconds, when the game was already decided.
However, unfortunately for the Colts, that’s about as much legs as “Norman to Indianapolis” really has.
Having just signed free agent cornerback Patrick Robinson to a 3-year, $14 million deal, the Colts don’t necessarily need another cornerback anymore to pair on the other side of lockdown cornerback Vontae Davis on the other side.
While the Denver Broncos just showed that a trio of stalwart cornerbacks such as Aqib Talib ($9.97M), Chris Harris Jr. ($9M), and Bradley Roby ($1.90M) can play a pivotal role in winning a Super Bowl, the group is fairly cost efficient all things considered heading into next season.
To put in perspective, the Colts are set to pay Vontae Davis ($8.375M), Robinson ($4M), and Darius Butler ($2.5M) this season. If the team were to theoretically sign Norman at a $16M price-tag, that’s $31.235M invested in the cornerback position. A number that far exceeds the amount the Broncos at $20.87M are set to spend on their talented cornerback trio.
Consider this, the Colts would be spending roughly 1/5th of their allotted $155.27M salary cap on one position at cornerback. Additionally, the team only has around $18M in cap room right now and still has an entire draft class to sign.
That’s not taking anything away from Norman, who’s a great cornerback in his prime with several peak years ahead of him.
However, the Colts have to take care of business with Andrew Luck‘s mega-extension first and foremost. The franchise can’t really afford to take on anymore big contracts until Luck has inked his new deal. One which will assuredly make him the highest paid player in NFL history.
Not to mention, a team’s cornerbacks oftentimes are only as good as their pass rush–meaning even the league’s best cornerbacks will struggle being isolated on an island for an excessive amount of time in coverage.
Its goes without saying, but the Colts pass rush needs more help than the team’s cornerback position.
If the Colts are going to spend big bucks defensively, the team would be better served spending it on a prolific pass rusher than shutdown cornerback.
While Norman playing for his childhood team makes for a great feel good story, the truth is that the Colts simply cannot afford to pay the shutdown cornerback the lucrative contract he’s now expected to command on the open market. There’s no question that a Norman and Davis pairing would be arguably the best cornerback tandem in football (besides maybe the Arizona Cardinals with Patrick Peterson and a healthy Tyrann Mathieu), but it’s purely just a fantasy at this juncture.
Right now, the Colts have to worry about locking up their own franchise player before the team can entertain any possibility of signing other high priced free agents. Right now, the franchise simply doesn’t have the salary cap flexibility to sign Norman.