The 49ers have interest in Josh Norman, who unexpectedly was made a free agent on Wednesday, but they’d like to meet with the 28-year-old cornerback before diving into the market for him, a league source said Thursday.
Norman’s first visit will be with Washington where owner Daniel Snyder is flying Norman and his family on a private plane on Friday. As of Thursday afternoon, he had not scheduled a trip to Santa Clara. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that five-year deals, worth between $14 and $15 million per year, currently were being discussed with Washington and the 49ers.
Last month, the Panthers placed the franchise tag on Norman, a designation that would have paid him $13.95 million in 2016. But Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman said Thursday that he eventually became uncomfortable with one player eating up that much salary cap space. The Panthers had been unable to sign Norman to a long-term deal.
“The more we thought about it, the more flexibility that $14 million would give us,” Gettleman said during his predraft news conference.
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The 49ers have the most salary cap space of any team in the league, $52.6 million, per the NFL Players Association. Washington has $12.2 million.
The 49ers have achieved that mark by declining to spend big money on free agents, including their own. Despite their struggles last year and holes throughout the roster, the 49ers added only quarterback Thad Lewis and guard Zane Beadles when the free-agency period opened last month.
“Ninety-plus percent of the guys that enter free agency have never made a Pro Bowl,” general manager Trent Baalke said Wednesday in defending the team’s policy. “Ninety-plus percent of the ones that get signed as free agents never make the Pro Bowl. So you’ve got a less than 10 percent chance of hitting on a Pro Bowl-caliber player, yet you’re paying them at the top of the market. It’s like buying a stock at its high.”
Norman did make the Pro Bowl last year, finishing with four interceptions – two of which went for touchdowns – 19 pass defenses and three forced fumbles for Carolina’s excellent defense. But it was by far the best season of his career; he totaled three interceptions in his previous three seasons.
Norman has the size the 49ers prefer at the position – 6-0, 195 – and he presumably would pair with Tramaine Brock if the 49ers landed him. The 49ers looked closely at cornerbacks when the free-agency period began last month, including at Sean Smith, who ultimately signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Raiders. The 49ers also likely would have pursued cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who was franchised by the Rams.
As it stands, a slew of young cornerbacks with minimal experience – Kenneth Acker, Marcus Cromartie, Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser – are competing for the 49ers’ other starting cornerback role.
Reaser in particular appears to be a favorite of Baalke’s.
“I think he showed last year, at times, when he got into the games – which he didn’t get (often) – that he’s more than capable,” he said.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick currently is the highest-paid 49er with a base salary is $11.9 million.
- When: April 28, 5 p.m. (Round 1); April 29, 4 p.m. (Rounds 2-3); and April 30, noon (Rounds 4-7)
- Where: Chicago
- No. 1 pick: Los Angeles
- 49ers’ first pick: No. 7
- Raiders’ first pick: No. 14
- TV: ESPN, NFL Network