Cost Aside, Josh Norman Instantly Fills a Huge Hole for the Redskins

One day after becoming an unrestricted free agent, Josh Norman has found a new home with Washington.

When you want something -- I mean really want something -- sometimes you have to ignore the obvious obstacles and do whatever you can to go get it.

Back in the 80s, a couple of Jamaican sprinters had their eyes set on the Olympics, so they trained every day in order to make team at the Jamaican time trials. When that didn’t work out, no one predicted that they would go out and start a bobsled team. But their dream was simply to get to the Olympics, and starting the first Jamaican bobsled team provided an alternative route of doing just that, so they did whatever they could to make it happen.

Ok, maybe that was just the Disney version of the story, but who doesn’t love Cool Runnings?

The Redskins aren’t leaving the NFL to start a bobsled team anytime soon (that I know of), but one of their goals is simply to improve at cornerback. They tried doing so last offseason by signing Chris Culliver, but -- as I mentioned in my Redskins season review -- that did not work out as planned.

Yesterday, one of the top cornerbacks in the league became available, and the Redskins saw another opportunity to improve at one of their weakest positions. A quick glance at Washington’s $11 million in available salary made it seem very unlikely that they would sign a player asking for money in the ball park of  $16 million per year. But when the end result is that good, and you want it that bad, sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to get there.

The end result in this case is Josh Norman, and Joe Redemann laid out earlier today just how good he is.

The Redskins put on the full court press to sign him on his first day as an unrestricted free agent -- for a lot of money, too -- but was it the right move?

Under Aerial Attack

Here at numberFire, we use our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric that compares the actual outcome of each play to the expected outcome of that play based on historical averages. This shows how much of an impact each play during an individual game has on a the actual outcome of the game.

Washington's 109.94 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP ranked 24th in the NFL, often allowing opposing receivers to play well above their normal quality of play.

Against the Redskins last year, the opposing team’s number-one receiver averaged 0.17 Reception NEP Per target better than his full season mark. Only six times last season did the Redskins hold the opposing team’s number one receiver to a Reception NEP Per target under his season total.

Week Player NEP/T v Redskins 2015 NEP/T Difference
1 Jarvis Landry 0.13 0.49 -0.36
2 Kenny Britt 0.95 0.76 0.19
3 O'Dell Beckham 0.89 0.96 -0.07
4 Jordan Matthews 0.45 0.66 -0.21
5 Julio Jones 0.74 0.73 0.01
6 Brandon Marshall 0.79 0.76 0.03
7 Mike Evans 1.26 0.69 0.57
9 Julian Edelman 0.63 0.73 -0.1
10 Brandin Cooks 1.27 0.75 0.52
11 Ted Ginn 0.65 0.8 -0.15
12 O'Dell Beckham 0.77 0.96 -0.19
13 Dez Bryant 0.65 0.47 0.18
14 Alshon Jeffery 1.14 0.79 0.35
15 Sammy Watkins 1.35 1.05 0.3
16 Jordan Matthews 1.7 0.66 1.04
17 Cole Beasley 1.16 0.62 0.54

Backfield of Nightmares

You won’t wake up happy if you find yourself dreaming about last season’s Redskin’s defensive backfield. Bashaud Breeland was their only player to land in the top 64 of Pro Football Focus’ 2015 cornerback rankings, meaning their second-best corner performed at no better than a third string level.

Among the teams who ranked in the top half in schedule-adjusted Defensive Passing NEP, only four of them did not have at least two top-64 cornerbacks. The top five teams in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP each had at least one top-five cornerback.

To make matters worse, the safeties did not play well either. Dashon Goldson, who started 15 games, was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the 74th best safety in the NFL last season. Kyshoen Jarrett and DeAngelo Hall, who both split time between cornerback and safety, were better, but only ranked 55th and 57th, respectively.

Help Where It's Needed

Ranked by Pro Football Focus as the 11th best overall cornerback and fourth best in coverage, Norman will come in and immediately take over as the number one option in Washington.

Last year, he shadowed four receivers – including two of them twice each – who also played against the Redskins. The result: he held every single one of them under their full season Reception NEP Per Target.

Player Rec NEP/T vs Norman 2015 NEP/T Difference
Mike Evans -0.55 0.69 -1.24
Dez Bryant -0.21 0.47 -0.68
Julio Jones -0.17 0.73 -0.9
O'Dell Beckham 0.21 0.96 -0.75
Julio Jones 0.66 0.73 -0.07
Mike Evans 0.31 0.69 -0.38

Now that he's in the NFC East, Norman will see both Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham twice each year. Beckham has finished in the top five of NFL wide receivers in terms of receiving yards and receiving touchdowns during each of his first two seasons. Meanwhile, Bryant ranked in the top three in receiving touchdowns among all NFL players during each of the three seasons prior to his injury riddle 2015.

In a division that also includes Jordan Matthews, who expects to line up outside more this year, having sub-par cornerback play could be a recipe for disaster.

Building on Success

In 2015, the Redskins found enough success through through stopping the run on defense and throwing the ball on offense to make up for their misfortunes in defending against the pass. Among the teams who finished in the bottom half of the league in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP, Washington was the only one to finish the season with a winning record.

The Redskins knew what they wanted, and did exactly what was needed to get him. Adding Norman instantly turns one of the team’s biggest weaknesses into one of their biggest strengths, and doing so could help land the Redskins in the playoffs in back to back years for the first time since 1992.