- The Washington Times
Thursday, December 14, 2017

ASHBURN — Josh Norman said he hasn’t felt like this before. The Redskins corner came to work this week knowing his team is officially eliminated from the playoffs, weeks before the season is over.

It was different in 2012, his rookie season, when the Carolina Panthers, the team that drafted him, missed the postseason. Back then, the fifth-round pick was just trying to adjust to the NFL.

But Norman now is an NFL star and team leader. He’s been to the dance three times with the Panthers, including a Super Bowl run in 2015.

Even last year, his first in Washington, the Redskins were in the race until Week 17.

This season’s out-of-contention 5-8 has left a “sour taste” in his mouth.

“Honestly, this is the first time where it’s coming to me like ‘OK, three games [left] and we’re not going to the playoffs. What the [expletive]?’” Norman said Thursday. “It’s a shocking revelation. It really is.”

Despite some reports that Norman is unhappy with his role, he dismissed the idea that he’s ready to jump ship.

In just the second year of a five-year, $75 million deal signed in 2016, he says he’s in Washington to turn the franchise around.

“I’m just trying to get this franchise back to its glory days,” Norman said. “There’s so many great people that come through here, so many legacies. … Man, they’re so proud, they’re so proud. To let these guys down, it’s gut wrenching to me. It’s hard to take and swallow a pill [of not making the playoffs] because you kind of feel their pain.

“I’m just trying to give them some hope, some life, to the fans and everyone else that’s out there,” he added. “Check out these last three games and we’ll take it from there.”

This season has been a challenging one for a cornerback accustomed to being considered among the league’s best. He was sidelined for two games with a fractured rib. He ‘s even been beaten deep on multiple occasions — including against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 10 and last week against the Los Angeles Chargers. He returned to practice Thursday after missing the previous day with a knee injury.

His mistakes stand out because he doesn’t usually make them — part of the reason he’s the highest-paid player on the roster not named Kirk Cousins. Expectations come with that money, fair or unfair.

Because of his salary and his abilities, Norman’s role on the field is always under scrutiny. Last year, a major point of discussion centered around whether he should “travel” with the opposing team’s No.1 receiver, meaning Norman would follow regardless of where the he lined up.

That discussion returned Sunday after Norman rarely lined up with Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen. Redskins coach Jay Gruden dismissed the second-guessing.

“The other receiver (Tyrell Williams) had 100 yards, too,” Gruden said. “So I think the majority of NFL teams have two or three really good receivers, and a lot of times you start trying to run around and matching with one guy, then everybody else has to get set on their guys and it creates confusion.”

Norman hasn’t played poorly this year.

Entering the Chargers game, according to Pro Football Focus, he was the eighth-least targeted cornerback in football per snap. That means teams are still conscious of working around him.

Norman said he’s grown accustomed, going back to his days in Carolina, to the ongoing speculation about his future. He said he’s even had his mom call to ask if certain articles were true.

But his career as a Panther ended suddenly when the team rescinded a franchise tag offer — blindsiding Norman at the time. That experience, and all the drama leading up to it, Norman said, helped him realize there are people who know “zero” about him.

“The people outside?The Twitter people? All the guys that go out there and get on these shows, they just talk about you and think they know things, but they really don’t,” Norman said. “It’s kind of like ‘OK.’”

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