Philadelphia Eagles: The pros and cons of signing Josh Norman

While the Philadelphia Eagles certainly need an upgrade at outside cornerback going into free agency, is Josh Norman the man for the job? Eh.

When Ron Rivera was named the new head coach of the Washington Redskins on New Years Day, it seemed like the best possible outcome for Josh Norman.

After suffering through a down 2019 campaign on one of the league’s least effective teams, Norman’s weighty $12.5 million cap hit made him a logical cap casualty going into the 2020 season, with the presumably still-bad team opting to see what they have in players like Fabian Moreau and Jimmy Moreland.

Given Rivera’s experience transforming Norman from a Day 3 draftee to an All-Pro over his rookie contract, it felt plausible that the team may opt to hang onto the 32-year-old pro after all, if for no other reason than to help transition in a new defensive scheme.

Nope.

With a little over a month to go before the start of the 2020 league year and more specifically free agency, the Redskins have released Norman outright, taking on $3 million in dead money to free up $12.5 million. Not a huge deal for a team with $48 million in available cap space, but a rather telling one about Norman.

So, with the 32-year-old corner now available to sign with any team at any time, it’s only logical to assume the Philadelphia Eagles would at least have a conversation or two about kicking the tires on Norman, if for no other reason than his very well documented love of Carson Wentz, right?

I would tend to agree.

On paper, passing on literally any available starting-caliber cornerback is borderline neglectful for the Eagles, as they will almost certainly not re-sign Ronald Darby for the second time in as many seasons. Despite his age, Norman is still very much a starting-caliber outside cornerback, even if his days as a clear-cut number one have long since passed. Norman’s ball skills are also still very much there, as he’s picked off four passes over the last two seasons, a drop off from his prime (2013-15) but still more than Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Avonte Maddox over the same stretch.

Now granted, that could be more of an indictment of Cory Undlin than an outright checkmark in Norman’s favor, weigh the options as you will.

Given his age and career earnings ($65 million), one would assume that Norman would value finding the right role over taking the most possible money available on the open market, but therein lies the problem with his potential addition to the Eagles: The fit isn’t perfect.

You see, Norman has never been particularly fast, as evidenced by his 4.61 40 coming out of Coastal Carolina. While he can play on the line of scrimmage in a man press scheme at times, his best fit would be playing off-ball in a zone-heavy scheme like those run by the Vikings, (Rivera’s) Panthers, or (presumably) the Redskins. The Eagles, ideally, would like to get physical with their corners around the line of scrimmage, and have them play the ball in the air a quarterback throws it up for grabs.

In 2020, think of Norman as an older version of Rasul Douglas, a player the Eagles clearly like enough to give opportunity after opportunity because of his resilience and ball skills, but consistently have to bench because of his tendencies to get burned for long touchdowns against even average go-route runners.

Factor in Mills’ similar lack of outside speed, and it’s hard to imagine an Eagles secondary getting notably better with Norman slotted into this current scheme without adding a true number one.

Next: Bryon Jones has to be free agent priority number one

For better or worse, Josh Norman is what he is at this point in his career, a solid number two cornerback. On the right team, his experience and ball skills could certainly elevate a defense for a relatively reasonable price, but barring the surprise release of Jalen Mills over the next week or two, his ideal landing spot just isn’t in Philly. After muddling through a slew of mid-round draftees and veteran free retreads, the Philadelphia Eagles need to invest serious capital, draft or financial, into a legit number one cornerback and be done with it, not take another chance on a player with question marks.

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