BY BEN STANDIG | FEB. 25, 2018

ASHBURN — Josh Norman covered a lot of ground since the season ended. The South Carolinian started a 7-on-7 football league in his home state. He participated in Super Bowl week festivities and the game broadcast for United Kingdom’s SkyTV. He went overseas, twice.

Social media updates suggest Norman is living large and smiling lots. Why not if the opportunity exists? This outwardly happy version is different from the despondent soul who sat in front of his locker at Redskins Park days before the season-ending loss to the New York Giants.

“At the end of the day I poured all my life into this game,” Norman said in an interview with The Sports Capitol. “I’ve always been successful. To feel like this now, it’s just not OK.”

The Redskins have moved to change. The trade for quarterback Alex Smith will lead to Kirk Cousins’ exit. Plenty of coming and going will follow. Norman’s view of the Redskins’ situation when he returns for workouts in the spring may be refreshed.

Time — and attending Maxim’s Super Bowl party — may heal his mental wounds, though unlikely. The 2012 fifth-round pick by Carolina arrived in Washington following a star-making 2015 season that ended with a Super Bowl appearance. That level of success, like how the Redskins coaching staff deploys its best cornerback, did not travel.

“This is a tough pill to swallow,” he continued. “If this is what we have to do to get to our ultimate goal, then I guess we just have to go through it. This is unacceptable. I just can’t see myself going through that when you can be able to do more, when you can see more.”

Norman has missed the playoffs in both his seasons in Washington. Based on the frustration expressed following that late December practice, he will need a solitary space if an unwanted hat-trick occurs.

“For me, it’s way more tougher,” Norman said. “Accolades that you get don’t count, none of that should count. For me, it resonates a little bit more deeply. When you go out to places or you go overseas and you go over the whole year it’s going to be like, you suck. You didn’t go further. Everybody wants to know what are you doing with the team that you’re with because of that. It’s just the worst feeling. It really is. You’ve got to take that pill and swallow it for a whole six months.”

Qualifying for the playoffs is not a one-man job. Norman believed the Redskins had the goods.

“We are one of those teams. We just didn’t get to that point,” he said.

The roster will reshape for better or worse before Norman’s return.

Contract talk with their soon-to-be be former quarterback lingered for some three years before the Redskins made their significant play. The trade with the Chiefs for the soon-to-be 34-year-old Smith becomes official in March.

Cousins, Washington’s franchise record holder for most passing yards in a single season, will play elsewhere. Whether the Redskins are better or worse with the QB change is the new debate.

The Redskins landed Smith by trading rising cornerback star Kendall Fuller and a 2018 third-round pick. Fuller might have moved from the slot to outside since Bashaud Breeland is a free agent. Now both are likely gone.

Those moves shifted cornerback from a strength to uncertainty. There is a similar story at inside linebacker if free agent Zach Brown departs. Center Spencer Long may move on. The call on wide receiver Terrelle Pryor is clear. He won’t be back.

Meanwhile, there were no significant changes with Jay Gruden’s coaching staff. The front office appears stable after last year’s Scot McCloughan debacle. Standouts Trent Williams, Chris Thompson and Jonathan Allen need to recover from various surgical procedures. Samaje Perine and Ryan Anderson are in the midst of their first batch of offseason workouts as pros. Wide receiver Josh Doctson is healthy.

Smith arrives in Washington coming off a career-year with Kansas City. Nobody will confuse him with the elite quarterback options, but the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 can make plays with his arm and legs. Building blocks like Williams, Ryan Kerrigan and Brandon Scherff remain.

Norman is another one of those blocks if the Redskins do not jettison his $13.5 million contract. It becomes guaranteed on March 19, the fifth day of the new league year.

That maneuver would surprise most. Norman was not worried about such details in December. Then he stared into the abyss of a long, playoff-less winter. The Redskins had a crippling amount of injuries. Excuses. They nearly finished .500 or better for a third consecutive campaign. Irrelevant.

“I’m not taking anything from this (season). Nothing from this year over into next year,” Norman said. “Eight-and-eight is not a successful year by any means, injuries or not. Guess what 8-8 gets you? Gets your ass beat. Gets you average. That right there. You’re at the bottom of the pack. The rest of the teams are trying to get up to the pack, but it does nothing for me.”

Perhaps the front office crushes free agency and the draft. Perhaps Norman returns refreshed and the roster changes keep his off-season smile on the regular. We’ll see.

“Can’t just go to a beach for a great escape, escape life,” Norman said in December. “Still going to deal with you when you get back.”

Photo by Joe Glorioso for The Sports Capitol