The Redskins’ whirlwind, out-of-left-field signing of Josh Norman took a few days for most people to process. Now, the dust has settled, and an intriguing portrait of a formerly dysfunctional team is coming into focus. There is so much about this move that points to the Redskins being not just a competent ballclub, but one of the most capable in the entire NFL. Sounds ridiculous, I know, especially since this team is still run by the decidedly incompetent Daniel Snyder. But hear me out.
First of all, Snyder is not running this team’s personnel anymore. That distinction rests firmly in the magical hands of noted football genius Scot McCloughan, who has changed this franchise quicker than the proverbial brown fox clearing the lazy dog. And this Norman deal is an extension of his prowess, a signing that finds the perfect balance between risk and reward while still leaving open the possibility of saving face should it come crashing to the ground.
The reward, obviously, is the continued stellar play of one of the best cornerbacks in football. Norman was the unquestioned star of a 2015 Panthers defense loaded with studs. He is outspoken and passionate and plays a premium position that the Redskins have struggled at mightily for years. The risk is that they could be breaking the bank for a player whose one-year magnum opus was a fallacy. Redskins fans have seen this script written more times than Cinderella (which, for the record, has been adapted to screen in some form 32 goddamn times. What the hell). Albert Haynesworth is the crown prince of Redskins turning in a spectacular season and phoning it in once the pen hits the paper.
That interplay between risk/reward is at the heart of many big NFL contracts. It’s a sign of willingness to win, a desire to force your hand in the name of staying near the top of the league. In short, it’s what every good major deal should look like. No one wins without taking risks. It’s what you do to minimize those risks that takes dexterity, and McCloughan nailed it this time.
Look, there’s no way to invest $75 million in one player and hope it’s all happiness and roses from there. More than likely, Norman will perform well for the first few years of the deal before tapering off and becoming an albatross on the team’s payroll. When Snyder signed Haynesworth for $100 million in 2009, there was little to suggest he had even given a modicum of thought to this. Sure, Haynesworth was coming off a ridiculously dominant year, but my God, the red flags were everywhere. Snyder didn’t have any kind of a contingency plan. McCloughan does, and that’s what makes this deal so indicative of the changes going on in the front office.
Norman’s five-year deal, while not completely team-friendly, does not put the Redskins in an inescapable hell of salary cap horror. The first two years could be rough financially, because Norman will count for a total of $28 million against the cap. That could be a potential problem even if he does play well, but McCloughan knew that. The hit is only $8 million next year and $20 million in 2017, a year in which the Redskins have a whopping $58 million free to take the brunt of it. But it doesn’t stop there. Norman’s salary is fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year in 2018, so if he’s terrible and the Redskins decide to cut him before then, they could save $8 million. If designated post-June 1, they could save $14 million. It’s an excellent backup plan that could prevent the team from collapsing on itself in the event of poor performance.
But there are other factors that went into this decision as well. Norman is not the only player who needed a new contract. If Kirk Cousins shows he is deserving of a multi-year deal, he’ll be getting around $20 million per season. A DeSean Jackson resigning is likely not going to happen, but it helps to plan for that as well. In addition, Jordan Reed will need a new contract and you know the Redskins are going to pay for him. With this deal, the Redskins worked to prevent those players from being shut out of the team’s future.
Overall, the Norman deal allows for wiggle room down the road. Instead of simply burning cash in the name of a few wins next year, McCloughan designed a contract that will give him a little bit of flexibility as far as keeping the core of the team together. It also indicates that he’s putting a lot of stock into the draft, where cheaper talent is available.
I trust Scot McCloughan
McCloughan has earned the benefit of the doubt here. While many fans will inevitable cry “Haynesworth” and point to all the big-contract disasters that have donned the burgundy and gold, McCloughan’s track record makes me believe in the power of this deal. This man knows how to build a team. He knows who he wants. I believe that he went after Norman purely because he believes it is the best move for the team. It’s not a move to sell tickets. It’s not a move to add a big name to a team lacking them. It looks like it is purely a move to shore up a weak spot on the roster in the best possible way.
In addition, I think McCloughan knows exactly what he’s getting. If he even had an inkling that Norman would not come close to replicating last year’s success, he would have stayed away. But he’s scouted. He’s watched film. He knows. Scot fucking knows. This isn’t Haynesworth moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which, in hindsight, is one of the stupidest goddamn things that Daniel Snyder ever did. This is a corner that fits a need. He’s a zone-cover mastermind coming into a zone coverage defense, and I have full confidence in his ability.
Finally, McCloughan knows that this signing makes the Redskins more competitive right now. Their corner situation is a lot like their receiver situation: when DeSean Jackson plays, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, and Reed all fall into their roles perfectly. When he doesn’t, guys have to play out of the comfort zones. In that same vein, this deal gives the defensive backfield enormous flexibility. Bashaud Breeland is great but the guys behind him, while decent, are not good enough to play second fiddle. With Norman and Breeland anchoring the corners, those role players will be allowed to slot in perfectly with their predetermined roles.
This isn’t star worship. It’s team building. And the Redskins are showing the NFL that they know exactly what they are doing.