The fact that the Carolina Panthers used the non-exclusive franchise tag didn't completely guarantee Josh Norman's return to the team in 2016. However, the penalty for signing Norman away from the Panthers would be steep and a team would have to feel they are a cornerback away from competing for a Lombardi Trophy.
There would have to be an NFL team that would have a need for a cornerback and would be willing to give the Panthers two first round picks, their pick this year and in next year's NFL Draft, if they don't decide to match. They would also have to have enough cap space to make Norman one of the highest paid cornerbacks in the league.
With these three criteria in mind, there are two teams that could potentially make a run at Norman.
As hard as this may be to believe, the Oakland Raiders appear to be a team on the rise and on the cusp of making some noise in the AFC. They have a young quarterback/wide receiver duo in Derek Carr and Amari Cooper as well as an excellent pass rusher in Khalil Mack.
The Raiders' defense last year was fairly strong against the run, finishing 13th in the league but struggled against the pass, giving up an average of 258.8 yards per game and ranking 26th in the league. The retirement of safety Charles Woodson certainly won't help their cause and they could use a shutdown corner on the outside to help solidify them. Adding a player like Norman could create a significant splash and put them in position to compete for a division title, a race that appears wide open with the retirement of Peyton Manning.
The Raiders check the box for a need and they also check the box for having the space available to offer Norman the contract he wants. According to Spotrac, the Raiders are second in the league in cap space with over $65 million available this offseason.
The last question then is will the team be willing to trade two first round picks. This year the Raiders will be picking 14th so it's not necessarily a high pick and it might be worth it.
The Cincinnati Bengals are another interesting possibility as they have made the playoffs now five straight years and six out of the last seven years. However, they have failed to win a single playoff game in that stretch going 0-6 under head coach Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals would seem to have all the pieces to make a deep playoff run with an above average quarterback in Andy Dalton, an exceptional wide receiver in A.J. Green and quality running backs in Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.
Similar to the Raiders, they were much better defending against the run (7th) than the pass (20th). They also could expect to have some changes in their secondary with Leon Hall and Adam Jones being free agents.
They also would have enough cap space to offer Norman a substantial contract with over $38 million available, according to Spotrac.
The difference for the Bengals versus the Raiders is they won't be giving up as high of a first round draft pick, with the team currently slated to pick 24th.
The Bengals, due to the fact they have been in the playoffs as many years as they have been, have not picked below 20 in the past three drafts. This would give them confidence that their first round pick next season won't necessarily be high either, especially with Norman on their defense.
The chance that either of these teams pursue Josh Norman during free agency would seem unlikely, especially with the roadblocks in the way from trading draft picks to offering a large enough contract that the Panthers don't match.
However, the Panthers did leave this possibility open by offering a non-exclusive franchise tag and it will be interesting to see if any teams try to jump in and offer Norman a deal in the coming weeks.