During the course of the 2015 season, Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman built up his resume to such a degree that he has become regarded as the best cornerback in football. Metrics would help bear that out, as he gave up the lowest quarterback rating in his zone of coverage among all qualifying cornerbacks.
With such rarified air, he has also just recently joined another uncommon fraternity in having become one of few players to have had their franchise tag rescinded, which only happened twice in the decade prior to this offseason. The Panthers have already reportedly expressed that they do not intend to pursue him as an unrestricted free agent.
That means, of course, that Norman—arguably the best cornerback in the league—will be playing for another team in 2016, and even though that is highly unlikely be with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it could still benefit them indirectly, especially if their intention is the acquire a cornerback in the first round of the draft.
To be clear, the Steelers more or less probably “express interest” in a wide variety of free agents, and sometimes that sort of information gets reported, but the truth is that typically amounts to very little beyond a phone call, just in case anybody has actually gotten their hopes up about the prospects of Norman lining up across from Ross Cockrell, who in turn would become 2016’s Antwon Blake because of the number of targets he would be subjected to. But I digress.
There is, generally speaking, a correlation between teams with early natural draft picks and teams with deficiencies in talent level. The league also happens to be geared highly toward a passing game, which leads to the probability that teams with higher draft picks stand a fair chance of being in need of a quality cornerback. They also tend to be teams that don’t spend a lot of money, and thus have a lot of cap space.
It stands to reason, then, that it would be fair to speculate there is a high probability that Norman will sign with a team prior to the draft a week from today, and that that team will probably have been targeting a cornerback high in the draft in particular—and that that team will be selecting higher than the Steelers at the 25th overall selection.
If that is indeed the manner in which this scenario plays out, then that could, potentially, translate to one of the draft’s top cornerbacks slipping further in the draft than we might have expected prior to Norman hitting the market, given that it would be taking one of the teams most likely to be taking a cornerback out of the equation.
This all assumes, of course, that the Steelers are likely to take a cornerback in the first round if the right player is there, which is not a safe assumption by any means. Perhaps it makes it a bit more likely. But at the very least it increases the chances of them having a strong option at cornerback when they do pick.