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Panthers bring back former All-Pro CB Josh Norman for unexpected playoff push

Norman emerged as an All-Pro in Carolina in 2015, but hasn’t played in the NFL this season at 35 years old.

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With Jaycee Horn sidelined with a broken wrist and a playoff berth at stake, the Carolina Panthers are looking to a familiar face at cornerback.

The Panthers announced Monday that they’re signing Josh Norman, who emerged as an All-Pro in Carolina in 2015 as one of the game’s most impactful cornerbacks. He’ll initially sign with Carolina’s practice squad. He’ll be eligible for the game-day roster on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Horn, a starter at cornerback, is scheduled for wrist surgery on Tuesday with his status afterward unclear.

Norman, 35, never replicated his All-Pro form from 2015, but remained a starter in the NFL for the better part of six seasons since. He has not played in 2022 after starting 14 games for the San Francisco 49ers last season.

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FILE - Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) runs back an interception against the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 30-yard touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game on Sept. 13, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. The Panthers worked out 35-year-old cornerback Norman on Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, because starter Jaycee Horn’s status for Sunday’s crucial game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is up in the air. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

Josh Norman, seen here during his 2015 All-Pro season with the Panthers. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

Interim head coach Steve Wilks was the defensive backs coach for Carolina during Norman’s initial tenure with the team that saw Norman develop into a shutdown corner during the 2015 season. Quarterbacks rarely challenged Norman that season and frequently paid the price when they did.

Norman defended 18 passes in 2015 while tallying four interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He returned two of his interceptions that season for touchdowns. Norman received votes for Defensive Player of the Year and parlayed his season into a five-year, $75 million contract with Washington with $50 million in guarantees. He played four seasons of the deal in Washington, where his battles with then-New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made regular headlines.

Norman never approached his former All-Pro level in Washington, but was a four-year starter with a penchant for forcing turnovers. In 58 games in Washington, Norman recorded seven interceptions, eight forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

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He joined the Buffalo Bills for 2020 before playing in San Francisco in 2021. It’s unclear how much he’ll be able to contribute in Carolina at 35 years old with no on-field experience this season. But Wilks trusts him, and the 6-9 Panthers have played themselves into unexpected playoff contention with three wins in their past four games.

Carolina would clinch the NFC South with wins in the final two weeks of the season. It would take control of the division with a win over the 7-8 Bucs, a team it beat in Week 7, 21-3. The Panthers close the season against the 6-9 New Orleans Saints, a team they beat in Week 3.

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