San Francisco, Washington, Pittsburgh and Miami are the team's expressing the most interest in free agent cornerback Josh Norman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The 49ers have emerged as the "leading candidate," according to Yahoo! Sports Charles Robinson.
Norman became a free agent on Wednesday after the Panthers elected to rescind his franchise tag. Carolina's original hope was that the team would be able to reach a long-term agreement with the first-team All Pro, but general manager Dave Gettleman said it became apparent that wouldn't be possible.
"After a number of conversations with Josh's agent, we realized that a long-term deal was not attainable," Gettleman said. "We have decided to rescind the franchise tag, freeing Josh to immediately become an unrestricted free agent. We thank Josh for his contributions and truly wish him well."
This decision is quite a reverse of course from two months ago, when the Panthers seemed optimistic about signing Norman to a long-term deal. At the Combine in February, Gettleman said it "doesn't make sense" to draft and develop players for other teams. Head coach Ron Rivera went a step further, saying he had little concern about paying the 28-year-old Norman despite his age.
"No, I’m not concerned that he’s going to be a worn-down body or anything like that," Rivera said. "I’m excited that Dave [Gettleman] has talked about what they’re going to try to do and the direction they’re going to try and head with that whole situation."
According to Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo, Norman's agent set the price tag for his client at $16 million per season, which would make him the highest-paid corner in the NFL. The Panthers reportedly didn't want to go that high, as the Charlotte Observer's Joe Person tweets Gettleman was only willing to pay Norman $11 million per season on a long-term deal. With the franchise tag for cornerbacks set at $13.9 million and the two sides apparently far apart in negotiations, it seemed inevitable that Norman would hold out. The Panthers opted to avoid that drama.
Norman can't be blamed for wanting to cash in this year. The 2012 fifth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina is coming off a career season, in which he intercepted four passes and shut down some of the game's best receivers on a weekly basis. Dez Bryant, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones, for example, caught seven out of 18 passes thrown to them for 63 yards and no touchdowns when Norman was covering them this season.
Though linebacker Leroy Hill signed a four-year extension with the Seattle Seahawks four days after the team rescinded his franchise tag, Gettleman's rhetoric suggests the Panthers aren't expecting to re-sign Norman. It's likely Norman will meet with a number of teams in the coming days, as several clubs with holes in their secondaries still have a lot of cap room available. The Dolphins have $19.5 million in cap space and desperately need a No. 1 corner. The Jaguars and 49ers have $52 million to spend, whereas the Browns are under the cap by $40 million.