By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
It is widely known across the NFL that the Steelers are in desperate need of secondary help. After seeing long-time starters Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and Ryan Clark retire in the past few seasons, the secondary has regressed drastically. It is extremely likely that the team will heavily address the secondary again in this year’s draft early and often.
It is also widely known across the NFL that former Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman is one of the top corners in the league. After a slow (yet promising) start to his career, Norman has really exploded onto the NFL scene by being selected to his first Pro Bowl last season, while also being selected as a 1st Team All-Pro. His level of play elevated the Panthers to new heights and helped them make the Super Bowl.
After franchise tagging the star corner earlier in the offseason, the Panthers rescinded their offer, instantly making Norman an unrestricted free agent. Within an hour, reports of teams contacting the 28-year-old corner began circulating. Of the multiple teams on the list that are interested in him: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Reports that the Steeler contacted Norman arose yesterday and Steelers Nation collectively threw their hands in the air rejoicing thinking that the Steelers were serious about signing the former Panther. “The team must DEFINITELY be looking to sign Norman! He must DEFINITELY be willing to play for a Super Bowl caliber team! All of our troubles would be over and all would be great!”
At the beginning of free agency, Norman was reportedly looking for a multi-year deal worth upwards of $16 million per season, which would make him the highest paid cornerback in the NFL (approximately $2 million more per season than All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis makes currently with the New York Jets). The franchise tag the Panthers placed on him was worth approximately $13 million, by no means chump change.
(Photo from Sporting News)
After the release of Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen, the team is now around $3.5 million under the salary cap. It is likely that guard David DeCastro will be resigned to a long-term contract before the beginning of the season (which is a must, considering that he has quickly become one of the top interior offensive linemen in the league). Additionally, the Steelers will likely restructure (if not extend) linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who is coming to the end of his career but still has a few more productive seasons left with the team. Ben Roethlisberger will likely also be on the list of players who undergo a restructuring of their contracts. Even with these moves, the Steelers will likely improve their cap space fairly nicely, but no where near enough to sign a player like Norman. There are many young promising players on their roster that will be entering contract seasons in the near future (Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Le’Veon Bell, and Markus Wheaton, just to name a few). The Steelers have become one of the most historic franchises in the history of sports by making smart choices in the offseason and making in-house players a priority.
In my personal opinion, I would be extremely cautious of signing a player like Norman. There is no denying his overall talent but there are some red flags that could indicate that he would not be nearly as productive with other teams:
- Norman’s breakout season took place during a contract season, where much too often, players look to spike their production to land lucrative deals with teams that are willing to throw around money (and still land in the top 10 of the following year’s draft).
- There is a chance that Norman was mainly a product of the Panthers elite defense. The Panthers boast one of the best front seven’s in the league (with one of the best middle linebackers in Luke Kuechly). Many times, when a player comes from a team with extremely elite talent around him, it is hard to accurately gauge if he is truly an All-Pro talent or just the product of the system he is playing in (Byron Maxwell is a perfect example of this).
- No one really understands at this point what exactly transpired between the Panthers and Norman, leading to the team rescinding its franchise tag offer. The Panthers were looking for financial flexibility but many reports indicate that there was more to Norman walking than just the price tag, especially since the Panthers clearly had the money to workout a long-term contract.
With all this being said, in a perfect world, the Steelers would likely love to have a player like Norman on their roster. Realistically, he would improve our secondary compared to the talent that is there currently. But at what cost? I would rather extend proven, consistent players like Antonio Brown to a $16 million/year deal or sign a highly proven free agent to less money who wants to win a championship.
(Photo from Fox Sports)
If you remember, the Steelers once contacted (and actually offered a contract to) Revis when he hit the free agent market.
Revis was looking for around $15 million a season.
The Steelers had less than $1 million in cap space.
Revis signed with the New York Jets to the tune of 5 years, $70 million with $39 million guaranteed.
Glad that “interest” the Steelers showed really paid off.
Just because a team is “showing interest” in a player does not indicate that they are serious about signing him. Reports flew around this very offseason that the Steelers were a “potential landing spot” for safety Eric Weddle. After the dust settled and Weddle signed with the rival Baltimore Ravens, it was revealed that the Steelers were barely even in the race to sign the veteran player.
Again, just because a team is “showing interest” in a player, does not mean a single thing.
Anyone who knows and understands how the Steelers operate will quickly realize that even if the Steelers had $50 million in cap space, they would almost never sign an outside free agent to a contract worth the amount that Norman is looking for. That is a move that teams who do not have 6 Lombardi Trophies makes. The team will continue to do what they always have done, and that is continue to build the team through the draft. The team is just a small improvement away from bringing home a 7th Lombardi Trophy. Signing a player like Norman to a mega-deal could set the franchise back year’s, especially if he does not pan out.
One more thought… What other teams are looking at Norman?
The San Fransisco 49ers, the Miami Dolphins, the Washington Redskins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chicago Bears, the New York Jets, and the Tennessee Titans.
Tell me anyone of those teams that are amongst the NFL elite that are expected to make a serious run at a Super Bowl this season?
That’s okay. I will wait.
So please, Steelers fans. Stop thinking that Josh Norman will actually even consider coming to Pittsburgh. Whenever he does sign his mega-deal, it will be revealed that the Steelers were never even real players. And to the fan’s that think the Steelers are “foolish for letting a player like him slip through their grasps and let him sign with another team”, relax. You are the foolish ones.
That has never been the Steeler way.
And trust me, it is not going to start being the Steeler way now over a player like Joshua Norman.