Josh Norman doesn't want to kick the Carolina Panthers when they're down, even if they're down in part because they let him go.
An All-Pro cornerback for the NFC champions, Norman was cut loose from the $13.9 million franchise tag in April and signed for $75 million over five years with the Washington Redskins days later.
While Norman and the Redskins are still in the playoff hunt at 7-5-1, his old team is a disappointing 5-8 and is third-worst in the league against the pass.
Norman faces the Panthers on Monday night for the first time since the breakup and understands their shortcomings even as he's reluctant to revel in their failures.
“I don't get up because people fail,” Norman said this week. “That's on them. I don't have anything to do with that. My success is determined by where I'm at and what I do for the team or organization that I'm with.”
Norman has enjoyed mixed success as Washington's No. 1 cornerback as Carolina has gone through understandable growing pains with rookie replacements James Bradberry and Daryl Worley.
Early in the season Atlanta's Matt Ryan blitzed the Panthers for 503 yards and four touchdowns, and two weeks later Drew Brees of New Orleans threw for 465 yards and four touchdowns.
Predictably, moving on from Norman wasn't a smooth process. Saying he was taught not to kick people when they're down, the 29-year-old is self-aware about the aftermath of his departure.
“You come up in a system and you know the guys and you build that bond and everyone knew where you were at that very moment in time,” Norman said.
“Then one of those cogs from the system absolutely, abruptly departs and then you try to fill that void and that hole, I mean, shoot, just like anything else, it's going to take time. It's not just going to pick up and go like you did before.”
While the Panthers have allowed 362.5 yards a game, the work-in-progress Redskins defense has allowed an average of 370.6.
Norman was brought in to be a difference maker, and he has been with 13 passes defensed, an interception and two forced fumbles.
The action-craved Norman has battled the frustration of quarterbacks not throwing his way, even as that deterrent is part of his value.
Balancing patience and aggressiveness is a constant challenge for a player who's tied for the league lead in penalties and who recognizes that no one will remember the quiet plays and everyone will bring up the one mistake he makes.
Norman's mere presence has helped keep the defense afloat amid third down and red zone troubles.
“To have a guy to be able to put an elite guy on another team's elite guy, I think that's nice,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “Josh loves the challenge every week, so when we decide to do that, it's very nice to have the ability to do that.”
Saying he doesn't like to “sit around the pick daisies out there,” Norman is always looking for an elite matchup, whether it's against Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, Dallas' Dez Bryant or Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin. The Panthers no longer have that luxury until either Bradberry or Worley develops into that kind of talent.
Norman already was.
“He was a big asset to our defense,” Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “He worked hard at his craft and was a big part of what we've done over the last number of years. That's his business.
“Players are here and sometimes players graduate to different systems. I'm extremely happy with the two corners we've got right now, and (we have) a lot of work to get done yet, still.”
Norman also has work to do with an enormous $20 million salary cap hit next season with expectations to match. He should be the centerpiece of Washington's defense for years to come.
Then again he thought that would be the case with Carolina, which didn't feel the same way.
“I gave everything I could do, and at the end of the day, it seems as if I wasn't worthy enough to be there,” Norman said.
“I got fired. So, I'm kind of taking it like that. At the end of the day, I'm helping someone else out and being better on another team and helping guys here and we're doing pretty good and we're working to get better.”