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91 players in 91 days: Cornerback Josh Norman

Can the veteran reclaim former glory in a familiar defense?

Washington Redskins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills have a lock-down, no-doubt, top-flight cornerback in Tre’Davious White. While the Bills have their Batman in the secondary, they’ve struggled to find someone to play the role of Robin consistently since head coach Sean McDermott arrived.

White has started 47 games, 49 including the playoffs, in his three seasons in Orchard Park. Buffalo has started seven players opposite White in those 49 games—E.J. Gaines (12), Shareece Wright (5), Phillip Gaines (5), Vontae Davis (.5), Ryan Lewis (3), Levi Wallace (23), and Kevin Johnson (1).

Will the Bills add an eighth co-star at corner this year? In our latest installment of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile a veteran auditioning for the role.

Name: Josh Norman
Number: 29
Position: CB
Height/Weight: 6’, 200 lbs.
Age: 32 (33 on 12/15/2020)
Experience/Draft: 9; selected by the Carolina Panthers in the fifth round (No. 143 overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft
College: Coastal Carolina
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 3/18/2020

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Norman signed a one-year contract worth up to $6 million this offseason. That deal includes a base salary of $2.8 million, which becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster Week 1, along with a $1.5 million signing bonus. Norman’s contract also includes $1.5 million worth of “likely to be earned” bonuses based on being active for the game day roster. If Norman makes the team, his cap hit for the year is $5,812,500. If the Bills release him prior to the start of the season, only Norman’s $1.5 million signing bonus remains as a dead-cap charge.

2019 Recap: Norman had what could easily be called the worst season of his career last year. In 12 games for Washington, including eight starts, Norman had 40 tackles, one interception, six pass breakups, one forced fumble, one sack, and one tackle for a loss. He was routinely burned in man-to-man coverage, allowing a 67.4% completion rate, 444 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns on just 41 targets. Washington released the veteran with one year remaining on the five-year, $75 million contract he signed following an All-Pro season with the Carolina Panthers in 2015.

Positional outlook: Norman will compete with incumbent starter Levi Wallace, as well as re-acquired veteran E.J. Gaines, for a starting role opposite Tre’Davious White. Ike Brown and Dane Jackson are the other outside corners on the roster, with Cam Lewis, Taron Johnson, and Siran Neal serving as slot corners.

2020 Offseason: Norman has been active this offseason, whether by giving his thoughts on racial injustice and police reform, flouting NFLPA recommendations against group workouts with his teammates, or playing FIFA 20 with Chad Johnson.

2020 Season outlook: Norman sure is being paid like someone who the Bills expect to start for them this season, but that assumption comes with a caveat: If it looks like Norman isn’t going to fit the Bills, they can release him prior to Week 1 and they’d only be on the hook for his signing bonus of $1.5 million on their salary cap. With a limited preseason that could very easily turn into a non-existent one thanks to continued COVID-19 outbreaks all over the United States, it’s less likely that Norman could play his way off the roster before Week 1. That sets up an interesting duel between Norman and Wallace (Gaines, while a solid player, is easily sitting in “show” position in this race), as Wallace was the unquestioned starter at right corner last year. If a return to head coach Sean McDermott’s defense means a return to All-Pro form (or at least close) for Norman, then the Bills have a legitimate stud across from White—instead of Batman and Robin, it’s more like Batman and Batman. And if Norman shows that his downturn in Washington wasn’t a product of a poor system fit, but instead a product of eroded skills, then the Bills can release him at limited cost. I expect that Norman vs. Wallace will be a good battle this summer, with Norman ultimately coming out on top.