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Contract projection for Buffalo Bills free-agent cornerback Josh Norman

He won’t make as much in 2020.

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

When Josh Norman signed with the Buffalo Bills before the start of free agency in 2020, we thought it would be a way to lock down the position and provide some competition to Levi Wallace. While that all proved to be the case, the price tag for that was higher than we would have thought.

Norman was the 34th-highest paid cornerback in all of football in 2020, earning $6 million for his one season in Buffalo. That was coming off a 12-game, eight-start season in 2019. In 2020, he had just three starts in nine games, so his contract demands aren’t going to be as steep in 2021.

Does that mean Norman, who just turned 33, would consider coming back to the Bills? Would they even want him? Not at that dollar figure.

Comparable contracts

Josh Norman
Buffalo Bills, 2020
One year, $6 million

This would be my opening shot if I’m Norman’s agent, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be heard.

Jimmy Smith
Baltimore Ravens, 2021
One year, $2.5 million with incentives up to $5 million

Coming off nine games in five starts in 2019, Smith re-signed with the only team he’s ever known a year ago for one year and $3.5 million. Then in January, he re-upped for 2021 on an incentive-laden deal. He got a $500,000 signing bonus, a $2 million fully guaranteed salary, and $2.5 million in playing time incentives. He turns 33 this offseason.

Jason McCourty
New England Patriots, 2019
Two years, $10 million ($5.5 million guaranteed)

McCoutry signed this deal to be a starter in New England after playing 16 games including 12 starts for them on a one-year deal in 2018. At ages 32 and 33 he started double-digit games for New England but his other numbers dipped.

Contract projection

I find it difficult to believe Norman is going to be considered an every-down player on the open market and as such he is much more likely to find a market closer to Smith’s than McCourty’s (or his own from a year ago). He’s still a solid player and one who can teach young players a lot, but he shouldn’t be counted on as a team’s CB2 for a full season. Still, this figure seems a touch higher than I want to spend this offseason.

One year, $2.5 million (up to $6 million)
$2.5 million guaranteed plus incentives

It’s the Jimmy Smith deal combined with the Josh Norman deal. Play like a starter, get the bigger paycheck. A small signing bonus coupled with guaranteed salary (that can be offset if the Bills release him and he signs with another team) and it protects Buffalo’s minimal cap space. Playing time and achievement bonuses are built into the contract, as well, so if he does end up playing at a high level or plays a lot of snaps, he’s rewarded.

For comparison in terms of average annual value among NFL CBs; $2.5 million is the high 50s, the $3.3 million cap hit is high 40s, while the full $6 million is 34th.

Here is an example of how those bonuses and incentives might break down:

Signing bonus: $500,000 (guaranteed)
Workout bonus: $100,000
Base salary: $2 million (guaranteed)
Per-game active bonus: $1.5 million ($93,750 per game) (9 LTBE)
Statistics bonus: $200,000 for 10 passes defended
Statistics bonus: $200,000 for 4 interceptions
Playoff incentive: $500,000 if he plays 67% of defensive snaps and Bills make postseason
Pro Bowl incentive: $1 million

Cap hit: $3,343,750