This was what Norman, the second-highest-paid cornerback in the NFL and a former all-pro, was relegated to Sunday at FedEx Field. The Redskins benched Norman in favor of Fabian Moreau in their 19-16 win over the Lions after a strange morning in which the team planned to have Norman inactive, only to reverse course.
Multiple people with knowledge of the decision confirmed a plan to make Norman inactive for the game around 9 a.m., four hours before kickoff. That changed about an hour later, however, and the decision was made to keep Norman on the active roster but severely limit his role.
Interim head coach Bill Callahan said he, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and defensive backs coach Ray Horton made the decision Thursday to sit Norman, and Norman was informed.
Norman has been dealing with a lingering hamstring injury, but he has struggled throughout the season.
“He’s been playing through some injuries this year, and at times we’d like to have some plays back for him,” Callahan said. “But I think overall Josh is a competitor that I really respect and I love, and he’s an integral part of our football team, and today was really his decision when he came to the stadium as to whether or not he wanted to be activated or inactive because he has been battling through a lot of things. With that being said, he elected to [be active], which I was proud of because he did that before for us in the Minnesota game [Oct. 24] when he was injured, and he played in that game, and if we needed him today he’d have stepped up in an emergency role.”
The Redskins started Quinton Dunbar and Moreau on the outside and Jimmy Moreland as the slot corner. Even when Moreau left the game momentarily with an injury, Simeon Thomas took the field instead of Norman.
The only time Norman played was on some Lions field goal and extra point attempts.
Sunday’s actions seem to be the beginning of the end of Norman’s time in Washington. There has been widespread consternation over his play, and the eighth-year veteran entered Sunday ranked as the No. 106 cornerback in the league by analytics website Pro Football Focus. The entire defense has underperformed this season, but Manusky didn’t exactly defend Norman this past week.
“Couldn’t tell you why. You got to ask him,” Manusky said when asked why Norman might be struggling. “I think from our situation, we’re putting him in situations to make some plays, and we’re just not making the plays.”
Norman is in the fourth year of a five-year, $75 million deal that expires after the 2020 season. He is set to make $12 million in base salary next season with a $15.5 million salary cap number, which would take up 7.8 percent of the team’s cap room, according to the website Over the Cap. The team would receive $12.5 million in cap savings with $3 million in dead money if he is cut before June 1.
There was a matter-of-fact feeling around the locker room after the game about Norman’s situation. Teammates understood Norman was in the midst of a rough year and that can precipitate change.
Moreau was the benefactor of that change Sunday, and he took full advantage. The 2017 third-round pick intercepted two passes and was tied for third on the team with six tackles. His second-quarter interception stopped a Lions drive that was ready to cross midfield. The second pick sealed the game with two seconds remaining as Detroit tried for a desperation score.
“You have two types of guys in the world — guys that don’t care and guys that do care,” Dunbar said. “That’s never been [Moreau’s] issue. He always came to work and worked. . . . I’m excited for the DBs because there’s no excuses now. You’ve got young Jimmy. [Moreau], he’s still young. For them guys to show up against some top-tier receivers in Marvin Jones and [Kenny] Golladay . . . they showed that they are capable of playing in this league at a high level. Now I’m not going to let them slack.”
The starting trio of Dunbar, Moreau and Moreland appear to be the cornerbacks of the future for the Redskins. Dunbar is ranked the No. 1 cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Moreau is much more comfortable on the outside despite the team using him mostly as the nickelback over the past couple of seasons, and he has one more year on his rookie deal. Moreland has been one of the more intriguing rookies on the team, though his play has tailed off some after a strong training camp.
“Finally, I get to focus on outside and do what I do,” Moreau said. “I’m just here to play football. … It’s just another day to me. I expect myself to make plays like that, especially when I’m comfortable out there doing my thing.”