How Losing Josh Norman Started A Lackluster Season For The Panthers
It's hard to believe that just under a year ago, the Carolina Panthers were pushing their way through the playoffs, and onto a Super Bowl showdown with the Denver Broncos. In addition, they finished last season with a record of 15-1, becoming one of six teams to finish with that exact record in NFL regular season history.
As for this year, well, we all know what happened.
Given that professional football is a game accompanied with so many different factors, such as: injury, free agency, and coaching shake-ups, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single reason for a regression of this extent. However, it's usually not that difficult to pinpoint the domino that knocked over the rest. In this case, it must be said, that allowing Josh Norman to walk in free agency is the biggest reason for their struggles this season. Last season, The Panthers built their success on grind and grit, and afterwards turned around and nonchalantly gave up the biggest proponent of their philosophy.
You could make the argument that Cam Newton’s lackluster play this year has majorly affected the team’s productivity given his untimely turnovers, and lack of stable leadership when it’s most needed during times of adversity. However, Norman was the heart and soul of this team. That's obvious at this point. He was the loud and outspoken one who not only led with his words, but also his exceptional play on the field. Last year, ProFootballFocus gave Norman a grade of 95.1 in their analysis of cornerbacks last year, a grade which slated him as the best performer at his position last season. But nevermind his play. It goes far deeper than that with Norman. He's a guy that wears his emotions on his sleeve both on and off the field. Given that he's been overlooked his whole career, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise.
He didn't receive a single division 1 offer despite his all-state caliber play which led his team to a state championship. After graduation, He joined Coastal Carolina University as a walk-on, but had to grind for a full year before being placed on scholarship. During the next three years, he played exceptionally well, leading to honors as an all-conference player (Big South) as well as an All-American player.
Despite his success at Coastal Carolina, he fell to the fifth round of the NFL draft where he was selected 143rd overall by Carolina. Two years later, it took cornerback losses in free agency for him to receive the opportunity to establish himself as a full-time starter and he hasn't looked back since.
His whole career is built on grit and grind, a philosophy that helped catapultThe Panthers to the superbowl. He embodied that principle more than any other player on the team. He played with a will to win that treated every play like it was his last, and that sense of urgency seeped into the rest of the defense transforming it into one of the most fearsome throughout the league last year.
Yet, they allowed him to walk for free this past off-season despite his desire to return for at least one more year. It's always a mistake to allow your best players to walk without anything in return, even more so when that player means as much to the team as Norman did to Carolina.