PHOENIX -- The contract suggests he should be the best cornerback in the NFL, however, Josh Norman's play has not backed up that standing. But, Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden says that doesn't mean the seven-year veteran corner should be ditched.
Norman will have a $14.5 million salary-cap hit, fifth highest among players at his position this season. For the previous two years, he had the highest number.
"To say he's performed as the best cornerback in the National Football League would be far-fetched," Gruden said. "But I will say this: I'm glad we got him. I think not having Josh Norman, our team would be not quite as competitive as we have been with Josh Norman. Moving forward having Josh Norman on this roster is going to help us get where we want to go."
Norman, 31, represents the sometimes internal conflict of a team: With such a high cap figure, there's little doubt some would want to part ways. There's a feeling that while Norman is good, the space could be better occupied.
But with a coaching staff in a situation where it must win now after consecutive 7-9 seasons, they don't care about the cap hit -- they want the player.
If the Redskins ever did part with Norman, they would need a starting cornerback. They signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this month, but he has no guaranteed money and therefore is an insurance policy. They do have several young corners such as Adonis Alexander who, if they developed him, could challenge for a starting job. But there's no way to know at this point whether they will.
So Norman remains.
Norman clearly was irritated at times throughout last season, whether by the chemistry in the secondary or by how he was being used. The Redskins changed secondary coaches, allowing Torrian Gray to leave and replacing him with Ray Horton. The Redskins wanted someone with more NFL experience to help coordinator Greg Manusky with the pass defense. Manusky's strength is the front seven.
Gruden said Norman will "fit in fine" with Horton and any defensive changes, whether in technique or how he's deployed. The Redskins have tinkered with Norman's role during his three seasons, using him more in man coverage than anticipated. Sometimes he travels with the best receiver; other times he doesn't.
Gruden said Norman's physical style and competitiveness always help.
"Josh is at his best when he's challenged," Gruden said. "You see him step up when he gets matched with Odell [Beckham Jr.] and he gets to run around the field. Ray Horton ... [will] push him and challenge him every day and it'll be fun to watch these guys go at it. He's a productive guy that's a sure tackler. Physical. Fits in that mold that we're trying to get. I still think he's gonna help us in a big way."
Norman said last season "I've been Hollywood" since coming out of the womb. He was on Dancing With the Stars last year, flying from offseason workouts to Los Angeles for tapings and rehearsals. And then flying back. He's devoted to off-field causes in the offseason -- whether it's helping at the U.S./Mexican border last year or assisting with the water issues in Flint, Michigan this year. Norman said at season's end, he would retire if he won a Super Bowl.
But Gruden said Norman remains firmly committed to football.
"Josh will adjust his game the best way he can to help this football team. That's why I like Josh," Gruden said. "People think he's just out there 'Dancing With The Stars' and all that stuff, but he's one of our hardest workers. He's on the field extra working. He's gonna come in in great shape."
But Gruden also knows with big money comes big expectations. Norman's impact in Washington has been oft-debated and whether he's lived up to his contract. In three seasons here, Norman has six interceptions, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
"From interceptions and all that maybe you can say no, but I think there's probably been a level of play that you would expect more to see from Josh," Gruden said. "But given the opportunities that he's had, I think he's done a pretty good job.
"It's hard to see superstar play sometimes from corners because offenses may throw away from them. Patrick Peterson, you'll see him some games and only have one tackle and no pass break ups and you'll say 'well Patrick didn't even play.' Well they didn't even throw his way. ... We just hope that when those plays present themselves that [Norman] will make those plays in the future. So it's really tough to judge Josh's play because he doesn't get a lot of opportunities."
The Redskins could use stronger play from the secondary. It would help to have a healthy Quinton Dunbar at the other corner; it would help to have far more consistent safety play with the arrival of Landon Collins; it would help to have a fierce pass rush. But Norman also has to do his part.
"People seem to be disappointed in his play," Gruden said. "I'm not disappointed at all. Josh is a good football player and does some great things for us.
"Now we're looking for more from Josh and he's gonna give us more because we're gonna demand more. We're looking for superstar status at corner from Josh."