The Carolina Panthers have placed the franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday morning. Norman had a breakthrough campaign in 2015, emerging as one of the league's top shutdown corners this past season. Carolina's decision to retain him for the 2016 campaign was an easy one despite the $13.95 million price tag for cornerbacks.
Norman was an integral part of the Panthers' near-perfect 15-1 regular season and run to the Super Bowl, which ended on a disappointing note with a 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos. Still, he anchored a Carolina pass defense that led the league in interception rate and ranked second in yards per attempt allowed.
The fourth-year player out of Coastal Carolina was arguably the top cover guy in the NFL this season, holding quarterbacks to a 54.0 passer rating when targeted in coverage, the lowest mark among all cornerbacks per Pro Football Focus. He added four interceptions -- including two returned for touchdowns -- and 18 passes defended, capping off his remarkable campaign with his first-ever Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro honors.
With the intense focus on the passing game in the league these days, elite defensive backs are in high demand and come at a premium on the open market. Although Norman doesn't have a long track record of success, he still should be set for a nice payday if the Panthers try to negotiate a long-term extension with him this spring.
Last October, Norman rejected a multi-year contract that would have paid him $7 million annually, and it looks like his decision to bet on himself has paid off handsomely. He's probably going to try to become the NFL's highest-paid corner, a title that currently belongs to Darrelle Revis, who signed a five-year, $70 million pact with the New York Jets last season.
The Panthers will have until July 15 to get a long-term extension worked out with Norman, something they're reportedly working toward. Otherwise, he will play in 2016 on the franchise tag. Norman earned $1.5 million last season in the final year of his rookie contract. So either way, if he keeps the one-year deal or gets rewarded with a lucrative long-term contract, Norman is in line to receive a big raise this fall.