In a shocking move, the team rescinded the non-exclusive franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman on Wednesday.
Norman immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent.
"After a number of conversations with Josh's agent we realized that a long-term deal was not attainable," general manager Dave Gettleman said in a statement. "We have decided to rescind the franchise tag freeing Josh to immediately become a UFA. We thank Josh for all his contributions and truly wish him well."
Norman wasn't in a talking mood shortly after the move was announced.
"Man, I just don't feel like talking about it right now," Norman told the Associated Press.
Still, don't expect Norman to be on the open market for long -- a source informed of the situation told NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport that teams started contacting Norman within an hour of the Panthers' announcement.
Norman burst onto the scene in 2015 with his first All-Pro season, compiling four interceptions and 19 passes defensed. Norman allowed a 60.9 passer rating in coverage, the 15th-lowest rating allowed among qualifying cornerbacks last season.
To rescind the tag a week before the NFL draft is unprecedented. The Panthers are holding their pre-draft presser Thursday at 11 a.m. ET, which will air live on NFL Network.
The corner was in line to make $13.952 million under the franchise tag, but Norman is likely trying to become the highest paid at his position. Darrelle Revis currently possesses that designation after signing a five-year, $70.1 million deal with $39 million guaranteed last year. Patrick Peterson owns a $70 million deal with $48 million guaranteed. Richard Sherman earned a $56 million extension with $40 million guaranteed in 2014.
Norman is looking for Revis-type money. The Panthers clearly disagreed Norman should be paid along those lines -- at least in their system.
Norman would have been one of the hottest commodities at the start of free agency if the Panthers hadn't slapped him with the tag. With plenty of corner-needy teams still flush with salary-cap space -- Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, etc. -- Norman will still get paid plenty. Whether there will be enough bidding in late April to make him the highest-paid corner in the NFL remains to be seen.
Norman will become the sixth cornerback to switch teams the offseason following an All-Pro selection:
Only Sanders in San Francisco earned All-Pro honors in the first season with his new team.
Despite not coming to a long-term agreement, most teams would retain an All-Pro player, for at least one more season. However, NFL Media's Jeff Darlington reported the Panthers didn't think the looming distraction of an inevitable holdout was worth the pricey one-year tender.
Gettleman's stance on "shutdown corners," especially in the Panthers' system, could also shed some light on the decision.
"Shutdown corner is a misnomer. There's very few of them. It's so hard. You can't cover forever," Gettleman told Black and Blue Review's Bill Voth last season. "If there's no pass rush, there's no shutdown corners."
UPDATE: Per Rapoport, Norman hired Ryan Williams of Athletes First to take the lead on his contract, per sources informed of the player's thinking. Rapoport added Norman has heard from roughly 10 teams and has received several contract offers, but the cornerback is not in a rush and wishes for the process to be complete before the draft. The 49ers, Buccaneers, Titans, Jaguars, Bears and Redskins are among the interested teams.