WASHINGTON — Less than a week before the start of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins scored a huge coup — one of the league’s best cornerbacks surprisingly hit the free agent market, and made Redskins Park his one and only stop on an unexpected free agency tour.
By making Josh Norman the NFL’s highest paid corner, the Redskins appeared to make a clear statement: we filled a position of need with a great player and suddenly don’t need to focus on that position in the draft.
Or do they?
In years past, the Norman signing would have precluded the Redskins from drafting a corner. Not so, now. General manager Scot McCloughan is smart enough to know the Norman signing can both help his team on the field, and also act as a camouflage for his intentions on Day 1 of the draft.
“You can never have enough corners … ever”, McCloughan said in his pre-draft press conference Monday. “As you’re well aware, I want to build through the draft, and I want to build with young guys. So no, it doesn’t hold us back, because you can never have enough.”
This is why those who view the Norman signing as the “same old Redskins” need to get a grip. McCloughan was behind this signing, not former personnel hack Vinny Cerrato. There’s less money going in Norman’s pockets than advertised, not more.
This is adding a big-time player at a position of need, not some impulse buy because “Norman 24” would lead to more jersey sales. While Norman had a huge year before hitting free agency like Albert Haynesworth did seven years ago, that’s where the similarities end: Norman was a mid-round pick who developed into an All-Pro. Haynesworth was a first-round underachiever that only showed up to play when there was a big contract dangled in front of him as motivation.
But I digress.
Adding Norman to a group of corners that already includes Bashaud Breeland, Chris Culliver and surprise contributors Will Blackmon and Quinton Dunbar is a great get, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that unit is deep. Longtime corner DeAngelo Hall figures to make a full-time move to safety and Culliver’s season-ending knee injury happened late enough in the year that he’s not a lock to be fully healthy for the start of the season. Plus, if Norman, Breeland or Blackmon get hurt … well, they’ll be signing people off the street in the middle of the season like they did last year.
That said, this draft figures to be irresistibly deep with defensive line talent. Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins, Alabama’s Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah, Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche and Mississippi State’s Chris Jones are all viable options in the first round. It’s not a stretch to think the ‘Skins could take one of those players high and still add a couple more defensive line prospects in later rounds, bolstering a unit that currently needs more help than the secondary does.
The Redskins also need help at running back, center, safety and inside linebacker. Selecting any of those positions first would be a welcome addition (especially if Ezekiel Elliot is still on the board) and a pre-emptive move to replace DeSean Jackson and/or Pierre Garcon at receiver would also be prudent (both are free agents at season’s end).
McCloughan has said on numerous occasions he’s looking for the best player available with the team’s 21st overall pick (assuming they don’t trade it). If that player happens to be a corner instead of a defensive lineman or safety, it’s the best move — even with Norman wearing burgundy and gold.