Player: Ross Cockrell
Experience: 2 Years
Free Agent Status: Exclusive Rights (Signed)
2015 Salary Cap Hit: $510,000
2015 Season Breakdown: Ross Cockrell was a non-entity for the Steelers during the offseason, and for good reason—he was a Buffalo Bill. And even when the Steelers did sign him, on the final cut down day after the conclusion of the preseason, it was still assumed that he would, in all likelihood, be a non-factor on the field in 2015.
The 2014 former fourth-round draft pick was waived by the Bills in the first round of cuts, but went unclaimed, and was a free agent between the two cut periods after clearing waivers until the Steelers signed him.
He was presumed to be the sixth cornerback on the roster, given the fact that he had not had any time to digest the Steelers’ defense, and we saw with Antwon Blake in 2013 and B.W. Webb in 2014 that defensive players picked up at that time of year did not see time on defense.
But Cockrell’s situation proved to be different, in part due to necessity, and his ascension to the role of a key contributor on defense began in just the second week of the season, 15 days after being signed by the Steelers.
Following his snaps in that game, he remained in the lineup as the nickel back for most of the season, entering the game as an outside cornerback in part due to the fact that he was the only healthy cornerback that was at least six feet tall.
While he had his ups and downs on the field, the fact that he was able to contribute on a competent level at all is a testament to his intelligence both on the field and off the field, in the classroom, and in film study, because it’s not often that even a veteran player is able to contribute immediately, let alone one with very little experience.
I will not say that the future is bright for Cockrell, but I will say that it is intriguing. He will certainly return, and at the moment is the team’s top cornerback under contract—not that that will remain the case by the time they kick off in 2016.
But to have an offseason under his belt in the system, and after having acquired a significant amount of playing experience—somewhere around 750 snaps between the regular season and postseason—suggests that he has not reached his ceiling yet, which would not be at all surprising.
Free Agency Outlook: As with Roosevelt Nix, the Steelers have already re-signed Cockrell a one-year contract for the 2016 season as an exclusive rights free agent. He has the potential to expand his role in the next campaign.
The 24-year-old could very well be a starting cornerback in 2016 depending on how the offseason develops for the Steelers, and, of course, if he earns the spot through his play on the field. He could be competing for that spot with Senquez Golson, Cortez Allen, Blake, or even—less likely—somebody not already with the organization.