In spite of all the good he and his team did over the course of the 2015 season, the lasting image of that football campaign – particularly for fans of the Carolina Panthers – will be the scene of another team reaching the pinnacle of the profession at their expense.
Obviously, everyone in the Panthers organization took the loss hard. Few were as visible in their angst with the cards dealt than cornerback Josh Norman, who as confetti rained on and around him, chose to look on with tears in his eyes as Denver Broncos players danced and whooped it up in glee after winning Super Bowl 50 in February.
As this scene played, Norman’s thoughts likely moved at some point to the following year, with the belief, “Next year’s our year … we were this close. Never this feeling, never again.”
But this is the National Football League … a business rife with power, and built on greed. And last week, Norman – as well as many of those who love the game of football – were given a surprise built more for April Fools’ Day than a week before teams hunker down in war rooms for the upcoming draft.
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Carolina pulled its franchise tag from the cornerback some argue as the best in the game, letting him walk instead of letting his presence and looming contract negotiations become a distraction.
It has become a trend for which the Panthers have become synonymous in recent seasons, first allowing the team’s best receiver of all time in Steve Smith walk, then allowing longtime running back DeAngelo Williams to do the same. But few expected Norman to join them, at least this year.
However, when dealing with money, loyalty to self ultimately trumps that to any franchise or fan base. With that in mind, Carolina has shown through words and actions that no one man is bigger than the franchise.
Carolina did what it felt was best to move forward, and on Friday night Norman did as well, signing a five-year, $75 million contract with Washington. Of that, $36.5 million is guaranteed over the next two years.
Time will tell if Norman lives up to that contract. He will have ample opportunities to do so, however, getting two cracks at top-tier receivers like Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant on an annual basis. On the other hand, the Panthers’ work has already begun, having to replace a cornerback with the ability in its scheme to take away half of the football field and hold his own against an opponent’s top receiver.
Losing such a player this late in the process complicates things a tad for Carolina, now having to sift through players passed on or simply not wanted at the position. It also affects their draft board, which likely before choosing to allow Norman to go to the open market was looking to add to an already stout defensive line.
Prior to last week, all eyes were on the No. 4 pick in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday, seeing who the Dallas Cowboys would choose – running back Ezekiel Elliott, defensive end Joey Bosa or defensive back Jalen Ramsey, if available. Now, with recent developments, what the Panthers do with the draft’s 30th pick will also gather as much attention and scrutiny as any other.
Following a solid week, Coastal Carolina begins a two-week road stretch, beginning with a three-game set with Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The Chanticleers are looking to further strengthen their resume in an effort to host a NCAA baseball regional. … Speaking of the postseason, area baseball and softball teams begin their respective quests for a state title this week. In particular, Aynor softball seeks to earn the Region VIII-AA crown Monday night in a winner-take all matchup with Dillon, which handed the Blue Jackets their only loss of the season last Tuesday. The game will take place in Loris. For a full rundown and previews of the playoffs, be on the lookout for Ian Guerin’s high school sports notebook, which will come out on Tuesday. … The NBA and NHL playoffs roll on, with most series preparing to begin second-round play. However, as of my writing this column, we are guaranteed at least one Game 7 on the ice, with reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago hoping to complete a miraculous comeback against St. Louis. … Last but certainly not least, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans will hit the road for a three-game set with Potomac before returning to TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark on Friday night against Salem, the first of three games between the teams.