The Carolina Panthers announced Wednesday they have rescinded the non-exclusive franchise tag they placed on cornerback Josh Norman. As a result, the All-Pro immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent.
"After a number of conversations with Josh's agent, we realized that a long-term deal was not attainable," said Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, per the team's Twitter account. "We thank Josh for all his contributions and truly wish him well."
"Man, I just don't feel like talking about it right now," said Norman, per Steve Reed of the Associated Press.
Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reported Carolina gave Norman's agent, Mike George, permission to seek a trade, but "that avenue was unsuccessful."
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson tweeted out his apparent reaction to the news in a since-deleted post (via Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman):
The development is surprising, to say the least. The Panthers placed the franchise tag on Norman back in March. He was set to earn $13.95 million for the 2016 season if he and Carolina failed to reach an agreement on a long-term deal. Had another team signed Norman while he still carried the franchise tag, that team would have had to surrender two first-round picks to the Panthers.
Taking all of that into account, almost every sign pointed to Norman remaining in Charlotte for at least next season. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport believed any breakdown in contract talks wouldn't have precluded him playing for the team:
Freeman is one of many questioning the team's judgment:
The Boston Globe's Ben Volin noted Carolina could have accommodated Norman's salary for the year:
Both Fox Sports' Jay Glazer and ESPN's Mark Dominik wondered whether something bigger is at play:
Norman may have been planning to hold out. ESPN.com's David Newton reported Monday that Norman wasn't going to attend the Panthers' voluntary offseason program, which begins on April 25. Newton added that Norman wouldn't sign the franchise tender until Carolina "makes an offer that suggests there is good faith to get a deal done."
According to Rapoport, NFL teams are already tripping over themselves to try to lure the newly available defensive back:
Norman finished with 56 combined tackles and four interceptions in 2015, and Pro Football Focus graded him as the third-best cornerback in pass coverage.
His price tag will inevitably turn off a few suitors. According to Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo, his agent has been asking for at least $16 million per year. Only nine teams currently have that much cap space, per Spotrac.
Norman could choose to follow the lead of Darrelle Revis, who signed a somewhat cheaper short-term deal with the New England Patriots in 2014 and then cashed in on a long-term deal with the New York Jets the following season.
If Norman wasn't willing to sign the Panthers' franchise tender, though, it's unlikely he'll take a one- or two-year deal with another team. He'll turn 29 in December too, so he'd be taking a big risk by expecting his value to be any higher down the line.
Replacing Norman would have been nearly impossible earlier in the offseason, and the Panthers' options have only dwindled with almost all of the top free agents already signed. Carolina now has nearly $31 million in cap space, per Spotrac, but that won't guarantee the team can find a competent starting cornerback.
The Panthers could look to the draft to find another defensive back, or they could take a chance on a veteran such as Leon Hall or Antonio Cromartie.