Cap flexibility, tough negotiation led Panthers to rescind franchise tag on Josh Norman

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Thursday, April 21, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman didn't hesitate when asked what he could do with the $13.952 million in salary-cap space he got after rescinding the franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman.

"A lot," Gettleman said Thursday, the day after he made the Pro Bowl cornerback an unrestricted free agent.

Gettleman said the flexibility he got in removing Norman's cap number and the unlikelihood that a long-term deal would be reached with the 28-year-old ultimately led to the decision to move on from him.

Norman was seeking what he thought he could receive on the open market -- between $15 million and $16 million a year -- according to a league source.

A source told ESPN's Josina Anderson that Norman is hiring Ryan Williams of Athletes First to be his primary agent. Norman is reluctant to sit through a five-day waiting period to change representatives while he looks for a new team, so current agent Michael George "eventually will be out of the mix," the source said.

By clearing his tag number, the Panthers now have approximately $31 million in salary-cap space. That provides the flexibility to sign Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short to a long-term deal, as Gettleman has said he wants to do.

"I've said it before," Gettleman said during what initially was a pre-draft news conference. "I struggle with our coaches working their fannies off, developing players and letting them walk. I don't like that. I've always believed that the cap can be a great equalizer. I really believe it penalizes teams that draft well.

"You have to understand you can't keep everybody. It's impossible. So now you have to decide who you're going to allow to graduate. We've got some really good, young talent. This was a business decision. That's what this is folks, a business decision."

Norman never signed the tag, which gave Gettleman the flexibility to rescind the offer.

Both Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera said it was not a factor that Norman did not plan to attend the start of offseason workouts Monday.

"When we decided to place the franchise tag on Josh, we were fine with him signing it and then working on a long-term deal," Gettleman said. "As we got deeper into conversations, we realized it was a significant difference between our thoughts and theirs.

"The intervening weeks gave us additional time to evaluate where we're going as a franchise. With the realization a deal was not going to get done, our internal conversations kept leading us to the fact that the one-year deal was becoming less and less attractive."

Gettleman said the possibility of getting a compensatory draft pick in 2017 also factored into making the move now rather than letting Norman play under the tag.

Depending on what Norman gets financially in free agency, the Panthers could get as high as a third-round pick as compensation for the 2012 fifth-round pick.

Under the compensatory formula, a team is entitled to a compensatory pick if it loses more unrestricted free agents than it gains. When Norman signs with another team, the Panthers will have lost three UFAs and signed two.

Ten teams had contacted Norman's representation as of Thursday morning, according to a league source.

"At the end of the day, you can't have your cake and eat it too,"Gettleman said. "We'd all like to, but you can't. So you make decisions that's in the best long-term decision of the Carolina Panthers."

Gettleman said the loss of a Pro Bowl corner doesn't affect his draft strategy, particularly in the first round. He insisted he will take the best player available with the 30th pick as he has the past three years.

But Gettleman did say the cornerback class "is a nice group."

"Like every year, various shapes and sizes," he said. "It's a nice group of players. We'll just have to see where the board falls."

Gettleman said conversations with Norman and his representation were "professional and respectful," and the general manager reiterated that he wished Norman well.

While he didn't say the door was closed on Norman returning, Gettleman didn't indicate that might happen.

"The more we thought about it, the more flexibility that $14 million would give us ... we just kept talking and talking," Gettleman said. "I have a great belief that in order to get the right answer you have to ask the right questions.

"We kept asking ourselves that question, and this is why we made the decision we made."

The Panthers currently have five cornerbacks on their roster. Bene Benwikere, who was slated to compete for the every-down corner spot opposite Norman, is recovering from a fractured leg suffered in September.

Rivera said that is going well and that Benwikere should be ready for the start of training camp.

Gettleman said he will continue to look at free-agent cornerbacks and the draft to strengthen the roster. He reminded everyone that players will be released between now and the season.

"We don't play until Sept. 8," Gettleman said. "You may say Dave's cavalier about this and yada, yada, yada, but the bottom line is we don't play until Sept. 8.

"I've said this to you guys a number of times: Sometimes the answer is on your roster."

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