• Travis Rapp

Is John Lynch Joshing Us? The Case For and Against Signing Norman

Image Credit: Getty Images


If you’ve followed the San Francisco 49ers offseason, you have probably heard about their amazing depth. They have two or three running back options who could start on just about any team. If you’ve watched the way head coach Kyle Shanahan has called the offense you should have come to the conclusion that they have two starting caliber quarterbacks. Their defensive line has a ridiculous amount of talent and depth. They even cut former first-round draft pick HaHa Clinton-Dix, who was starting for the Green Bay Packers not long ago.

This amazing depth on their roster doesn’t include the cornerback position. The team returns all three starting CBs from last season, with Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley starting at the outside positions and K’Waun Williams returning to man the slot. Behind those three players though there are crickets. Not actual bugs in football jerseys, but near deafening silence. The only other CBs on the roster as of Sunday was journeyman Dontae Johnson and rookies Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir. The 49ers know exactly what they have in Johnson which is why he was cut on Monday (although he was re-signed to the practice squad) to make room for a new addition, Josh Norman.

One can assume that Johnson’s lack of difference-making talent and Thomas’s poor showing in the preseason prompted this free-agent move. Norman is a former All-Pro cornerback with big-name power. The problem is, that was six years ago, and in reality, the only big breakout season he ever had. After spending his first four season in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers – the last being the 2015 season when he was an All-Pro, he signed a big contract with the Washington Football Team, and has seen his on field value decrease year by year.

Three years ago, the Niners brought in Richard Sherman from the division-rival Seattle Seahawks and saw him resurrect his career. Maybe the team thinks that Norman can do the same thing. The length of contract (one year), and the timing of it(signed six days before the first game of the season) tells us that is probably not the idea. Norman is no longer a shutdown cornerback, and he hasn’t been one for quite some time. The last time he saw significant starts was in 2019 with the WFT, and he allowed a passer rating of 128.6 that season.

Norman wasn’t brought in to supplant Moseley or Verrett in the starting lineup. He was brought in to ease the transition for Thomas and Lenoir to the professional game, something they obviously thought Johnson couldn’t do. Will Norman see the field? Yes, but hopefully not for long periods of games. He did play nine games for the Buffalo Bills last season, starting three of them. In that time, he recorded 24 tackles, four pass break-ups, one interception, a defensive touchdown, and a forced fumble.

So, Norman does still have some big-play potential, but at age 33 and having lost a step or two, he should not be expected to log lots of snaps with this defense. Norman is a depth piece that the team hopes they don’t need to use. If history is any indicator, if he doesn’t show he is capable of that, then Johnson will be brought up from the practice squad and Norman will be released. As a veteran going into his tenth season, his main job might be to help Thomas and Lenoir adjust to the pro game while Verrett, Moseley, and Williams do most of the heavy lifting.

It won’t be a good thing if Norman is called on to play a lot this season, because it will mean that either Verrett or Moseley have been bitten by the injury bug again and that the picks used on Thomas and Lenoir were wasted on players without the ability to keep the much-slower Norman off the field. If the 49ers want to find consistency at cornerback for this season and the future, they have to make sure that neither of those statements are true.


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