Is Josh Norman the newest Redskins free-agent bust?
They did it again.
Dan Snyder’s Washington Redskins — the franchise of Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George, Adam Archuleta, Dana Stubblefield and, most infamously, Albert Haynesworth — are back on the free agent train, making the biggest, most unexpected splash of the offseason by signing in former Carolina Panthers star cornerback Josh Norman to a massive deal that includes $50 million guaranteed in order to shore up the ‘Skins weak, beleaguered secondary. The move came about 48 hours after Carolina stunningly, bafflingly rescinded the franchise tag on its All-Pro, which would have paid Norman $14 million to come back to the reigning NFC champions for one season.
Is Norman a game-changing cornerback who instantly helps the Redskins in their quest to become the first repeat champions of the NFC East in more than a decade. Or is he another shiny new toy Dan Snyder just had to have, one who was never going elsewhere once he landed in D.C. and went to every agent’s favorite building in the NFL — Redskins Park, a place that gives out multi-million dollar contracts like they’re lollipops at a pediatrician’s office.
Which is it?
Can it be both?
The days of Washington trying to buy a Super Bowl are further away than most people realize. For the past half-decade, the team has seen others win the title of "Offseason Champions," one that the Redskins had almost exclusively held for the first 10 years of the century. It’s been 16 years since that disastrous 2000 team, with all the great past-its-prime talent and a meddlesome owner who would eventually fire a coach midseason, even though the team had a winning record.
Since then there have been missteps, some huge (Albert Haynesworth, in more ways than one), but Snyder has managed to stay more and more in the shadows with each passing year. The presence of Scot McCloughan, the team’s newish general manager who worked magic with rosters in San Francisco and Seattle, was supposed to further neutralize Snyder’s say in personnel matters and save him from himself. No more would there be an owner being BFFs with a new quarterback, an odd coupling that was odd when the team was winning and poisonous when it wasn’t. No more would every losing streak lead to discussions about whether the coach would still be around the following week. Or at least that was the plan.
But the Redskins can’t shake their old reputation, which is why it’s impossible for most to come to a definitive position on the Norman signing. It’s almost identical to the situation Washington went through two years ago when DeSean Jackson was suddenly gone in Philadelphia and the Redskins, with that Terminator-like precision, had him in burgundy and gold within hours.
The same questions were asked then: Is this just the Redskins being the Redskins? Or is this a signing that improves the team for the near- and long-term. Jackson’s signing has been a boon to the franchise, for now.
If San Francisco, Miami or New Orleans had brought in Josh Norman, it would have been an instant coup — a positive roster upheaval (though maybe a little expensive) that came out of nowhere to immediately transform a roster and a defense. Who wouldn’t pursue an All-Pro who was sure to be off the market as quickly as he got put on it? The possible downsides would be buried in the story.
With the Redskins, the downsides are the story. Will the ‘Skins be able to sign Kirk Cousins long term? Will having both Norman and Cousins hurt the team’s ability to sign other players? Is Norman too volatile, especially with two games against his new nemesis, Odell Beckham Jr.? Will he be able to thrive outside Carolina’s system? The questions that wouldn’t have been asked if he’d gone to 30 other teams are asked because he went to the 31st.
They’re fair questions. Josh Norman will either go down as the next great Redskin or another of Snyder’s follies, and there’s not much room in between.