Ross Cockrell

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/1/18

Today’s minor moves:

Carolina Panthers

Detroit Lions

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

Tennessee Titans

Panthers’ Ross Cockrell Suffers Broken Leg

More bad news for the Panthers. After key offensive lineman Daryl Williams dislocated his knee and tore his MCL yesterday, they were struck with another serious injury to a player expected to have a big role. Cornerback Ross Cockrell broke his leg, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). There’s no timetable for Cockrell’s recovery just yet, but the injury will certainly cost him regular season games. 

Cockrell, 27 in August, was sent to the Giants in a September 2017 trade that netted the Steelers a conditional seventh-round draft pick. A former fourth-round pick, Cockrell went on to start nine games for Big Blue, collecting three interceptions and grading as the NFL’s No. 39 cornerback among 120 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus. This offseason, the Panthers signed him to a two-year, $6.8MM contract.

In 2017, Cockrell finished first in Football Outsiders’ success rate, which measures cornerbacks on their ability to consistently stop opposing wideouts short of the sticks. In fact, Cockrell was one of only eight defenders who stopped a receiver short of a successful gain on over half their tackles a season ago, as FO’s Aaron Schatz tweeted earlier this year. The league has consistently undervalued him and his skillset, but the Panthers recognized his ability and were looking forward to what he could contribute this year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers To Sign CB Ross Cockrell

The Panthers have signed cornerback Ross Cockrell to a two-year, $6.8MM contract, according to his agents at Reign Sports Management (Twitter link).

Cockrell, 26, was sent to the Giants in a September 2017 trade that netted the Steelers a conditional seventh-round draft pick. A former fourth-round pick, Cockrell went on to start nine games for Big Blue, collecting three interceptions and grading as the NFL’s No. 39 cornerback among 120 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.

As I noted when evaluating the NFL’s best defensive free agents, Cockrell stood out as a potential bargain option. In 2017, Cockrell finished first in Football Outsiders’ success rate, which measures cornerbacks on their ability to consistently stop opposing wideouts short of the sticks. In fact, Cockrell was one of only eight defenders who stopped a receiver short of a successful gain on over half their tackles a season ago, as FO’s Aaron Schatz recently tweeted, but the league has consistently undervalued him and his skill-set.

Cockrell will now join a Panthers secondary that also includes corners James Bradberry, Captain Munnerlyn, and Kevon Seymour, among others. Carolina reached an agreement with free agent Bashaud Breeland last week only to void the deal following a failed physical, while Daryl Worley (trade), Teddy Williams (free agency), and Ladarius Gunter (non-tendered) are also missing from the Panthers’ defensive backfield.

[RELATED: Panthers Depth Chart]

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Panthers, Steelers, Giants

The Panthers are for sale, and the price has reportedly risen to more than $2.5 billion, according to Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg. For reference, the last NFL team to change hands — the Bills — reportedly went for $1.1 billion. The excessive price tag has caused at least one potential bidder, sports apparel mogul Michael Rubin, to drop out of the running, per Soshnick. However, a new suitor has emerged, as Alan Kestenbaum, CEO of private equity firm Bedrock Industries, has expressed interest in the Panther franchise, per Rick Rothacker and Katherine Peralta of the Charlotte Observer.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Los Angeles district attorney does not plan to file vandalism charges against Bills wide receiver Zay Jones following a bizarre incident which was caught on video earlier this week, reports Mike Rodak of ESPN.com (Twitter link), who adds insufficient evidence is available to press charges. Jones was arrested following a troubling entanglement in which he struggled with his brother — the Vikings’ Cayleb Jones — before kicking through a glass window. Buffalo selected Jones out of East Carolina in the second round of the 2017 draft. In his rookie campaign, Jones started 10 games and posted 27 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Several teams have been in contact with free agent running back Alfred Blue, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The Steelers, presumably in the market for a veteran backup to Le’Veon Bell, are one of those clubs, but it doesn’t appear as though Blue will be signing with Pittsburgh. Blue, 26, hit his high-water mark in 2015 by rushing for 698 yards in nine starts for the Texans, but the addition of Lamar Miller has forced Houston to scale back Blue’s role since then. In 2017, Blue played on 21% of the Texans’ offensive snaps but managed only 3.7 yards per carry.
  • The Giants are still searching for cornerback help after cutting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie earlier this month, and they’re assessing the market for internal free agent Ross Cockrell, as Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com writes. Cockrell, whom New York acquired from Pittsburgh last September, started nine games for Big Blue in 2017. He finished first in Football Outsiders’ success rate, which measures cornerbacks on their ability to consistently stop opposing wideouts short of the sticks. Thus far, the Giants have agreed to terms with lower-tier defensive backs such as B.W. Webb, Teddy Williams, and Curtis Riley.
  • Although John Bowlen — son of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen — recently announced his intention to sell his minority stake in the club, he’s since agreed to sell a portion of his total ownership (which is roughly 30-35%) back to the team, according to Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. John Bowlen’s decision to sell wouldn’t have necessarily affected day-to-day operations of the Broncos, as Pat Bowlen — who stepped down as principal owner in 2014 due to Alzheimer’s disease — would have still held the majority of the club and be entitled to designate one of his other children as his successor.

Vikings Interested In CB Ross Cockrell

Ross Cockrell is on the Vikings radar. Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News in Minneapolis reports (via Twitter) that the organization is interested in the free agent cornerback. Wolfson adds that the Giants would like to retain the defensive back, but Cockrell’s decision will likely come down to money.

The 2014 fourth-rounder out of Duke spent time with the Bills and Steelers before joining the Giants via trade last September. The 26-year-old had another productive campaign, compiling 50 tackles, 11 passes defended, and three interceptions in 16 games (nine starts). Cockrell was listed 39th in Pro Football Focus’ ranking of the 120 eligible cornerbacks. Our own Dallas Robinson ranked Cockrell 13th among all free agent cornerbacks, noting that he was an ideal option for those seeking a bargain.

The Vikings are apparently seeking reinforcement at the position, as they previously expressed interest in free agent Bryce Callahan. Minnesota already has All-Pro Xavier Rhodes and former first-rounder Trae Waynes slotted into their starting lineup, but Cockrell could be an upgrade over the likes of Mackensie Alexander, Jack Tocho, and Horace Richardson.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2018 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2018:

Edge defender:

  1. Julius Peppers
  2. William Hayes
  3. Trent Murphy
  4. Pernell McPhee
  5. Aaron Lynch
  6. Alex Okafor
  7. Adrian Clayborn
  8. Kony Ealy
  9. Connor Barwin
  10. Jeremiah Attaochu
  11. Junior Galette
  12. Derrick Shelby
  13. Barkevious Mingo
  14. Kareem Martin
  15. Erik Walden

As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.

Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.

Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.

The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Sheldon Richardson
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Muhammad Wilkerson
  4. Star Lotulelei
  5. DaQuan Jones
  6. Beau Allen
  7. Denico Autry
  8. Justin Ellis
  9. Tom Johnson
  10. Bennie Logan
  11. Chris Baker
  12. Kyle Williams
  13. Dominique Easley
  14. Haloti Ngata
  15. Jay Bromley

Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.

Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.

While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more

NFC East Notes: Redskins, Eagles, Giants

Su’a Cravens‘ decision to retire (and then reverse his course of action) stunned both the Redskins‘ front office and many of the club’s players, according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post and Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter link), although Jones report that Cravens had discussed his intentions with some Washington coaches. Cravens, who’s now on the exempt/left squad list, took to Snapchat on Monday to express that while he doesn’t feel the need to “explain” his reasons for leaving the Redskins, he will attempt to be more open, as Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post writes. Walking away could cost Cravens more than $1MM, as Washington could force the second-year safety to pay back a portion of his signing bonus, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

Here’s more from the NFC East:

  • Offensive guard Chance Warmack‘s one-year extension with the Eagles has a base value of $2.5MM and can be worth as much as $5MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Given that Warmack, a former top-10 draft pick, is scheduled to earn roughly $1.3MM in 2017, his new deal could allow him to take a leap in terms of salary in 2018. Warmack isn’t projected to start for Philadelphia during the upcoming season, but he’ll be the club’s top backup guard behind Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo. Speculatively, the Eagles could view Warmack as a future starter if they part ways with Jason Kelce and shift Seumalo to center.
  • The Redskins put in a waiver claim for former Jaguars quarterback Brandon Allen but lost out to the Rams, who had the higher waiver priority, tweets Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post. Allen, a sixth-round pick in 2016, would have become Washington’s third quarterback behind Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy. Instead, the Redskins — who waived signal-caller Nate Sudfeld over the weekend — signed 2017 undrafted free agent Alek Torgersen to their practice squad.
  • Similarly, the Giants attempted to claim offensive tackle Zach Banner off waivers from the Colts, but lost out to the Browns, reports Dan Duggan of NJ.com (Twitter link). Currently, New York boasts Chad Wheeler and D.J. Fluker as tackle depth, while guard Justin Pugh can also move outside. Banner, who stands a gargantuan 6’9″, 350 pounds, was a fourth-round selection in this year’s draft.
  • After acquiring Ross Cockrell from the Steelers in exchange for a conditional 2018 pick over the weekend, the Giants have now reduced the cornerback’s pay from $1.797MM to $1.1MM, tweets cap guru Ian Whetstone. Cockrell will now earn a base salary of $1MM, while that extra $1MM is available via bonuses, per James Kratch of NJ.com. A restricted free agent during the spring, Cockrell was tendered at the original round level by Pittsburgh, but RFA salaries aren’t guaranteed. Cockrell is expected to serve as depth for a stacked New York secondary that includes Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Giants Acquire CB Ross Cockrell

The Giants have acquired cornerback Ross Cockrell from the Steelers in exchange for a conditional 2018 draft pick, Pittsburgh announced.Ross Cockrell (Vertical)

Cockrell, 26, was a 16-game starter for the first time in his career in 2016, and he played rather well, grading the NFL’s No. 27 cornerback, per Pro Football Focus. However, the Steelers signed free agent cornerback Joe Haden earlier this week, a move that would have pushed Cockrell into a reserve role.

Of course, Cockrell will be a backup with the Giants, as well, as Big Blue boasts one of the more impressive secondaries in the league. New York will start Eli Apple, Janoris Jenkins, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in its nickel package, making Cockrell one of the NFL’s best fourth cornerbacks.

A restricted free agent, Cockrell will earn $1.797MM in 2017 before hitting the open market next spring.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 4/17/17

The latest minor moves…

  • Raiders defensive end Denico Autry has signed his RFA tender, reports ESPN’s Adam Caplan (Twitter link). The Raiders gave the 2014 undrafted free agent an original-round tender, leading to speculation that he could draw interest from elsewhere. Instead, Autry will return to the Raiders on the heels of back-to-back three-sack seasons. ERFAs Seth Roberts (WR) and Denver Kirkland (G) are also back in the fold, according to Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (on Twitter).
  • The Seahawks have re-signed linebacker Kache Palacio, writes Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Palacio, a former fullback who went undrafted out of Washington State last year, spent most of 2016 on Seattle’s practice squad.
  • Lions ERFAs Brandon Copeland (DE), Kerry Hyder (DT) and T.J. Jones (WR) have signed their tenders, tweets Birkett. Dolphins ERFAs Mike Hull (LB) and Anthony Steen (C) did the same earlier Monday, per Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald (Twitter link).

Earlier updates:

  • The Panthers have re-upped restricted free agent guard Andrew Norwell and a pair of exclusive rights free agents – center Tyler Larsen and punter Michael Palardy – writes Bryan Strickland of their website. Carolina used a second-round tender on Norwell, who will earn $2.746MM in 2017. Norwell combined for 29 starts over the previous two seasons and ranked 11th in performance among Pro Football Focus’ 72 qualified guards last year.
  • Steelers RFA cornerback Ross Cockrell has inked his original-round tender, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). Cockrell went in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, so the Steelers would have been entitled to a fourth-rounder had Cockrell signed elsewhere and they elected against matching the offer. The 25-year-old caught on with the Steelers in 2015 and has since totaled 31 appearances, 23 starts and two interceptions. Cockrell started in every Steelers game last year, and his performance ranked an improve 28th among 111 qualified corners at PFF.
  • Chiefs RFA kicker Cairo Santos has signed his tender, per Schefter (on Twitter). Santos, undrafted in 2014, received a low tender; as such, Kansas City wouldn’t have been entitled to compensation had he gone elsewhere. The three-year veteran has connected on 84.3 percent of field goal attempts, including 88.6 percent last season (good for fifth in the league).
  • Lions offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas has signed his RFA tender, tweets Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. The Lions assigned Lucas an original-rounder tender last month, so they wouldn’t have gotten a pick had the 2014 undrafted free agent signed elsewhere and they chose not to match. Lucas is now slated to make $1.797MM this year in Detroit, where he has started in six of 35 career appearances.
  • The Buccaneers have re-signed quarterback Ryan Griffin, cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah, tight end Cameron Brate, linebacker Adarius Glanton, and wide receivers Adam Humphries and Freddie Martino, per Scott Smith of the team’s website. As a restricted free agent, Griffin is the only one of the bunch who could have potentially gone elsewhere (the rest were exclusive rights free agents). The Bucs tendered the 2013 undrafted free agent at an original-round level last month, and he’ll now try to win the No. 2 role behind Jameis Winston. Tampa Bay’s previous second-stringer, Mike Glennon, is now the Bears’ starter.
  • RFA defensive back Marcus Burley and ERFA running back George Atkinson III are returning to the Browns, per a team announcement. Burley, undrafted in 2013, received an original-round tender. The former Seahawk is coming off his first year in Cleveland, where he appeared in 12 games and played just under 40 percent of the Browns’ special teams snaps.
  • Fullback Tommy Bohanon and receiver Larry Pinkard have signed with the Jaguars, tweets the team’s account. Bohanon is the only with NFL experience, having logged 36 appearances and 14 starts as a Jet from 2013-15.
  • Speaking of the Jets, they have re-signed linebacker Julian Stanford (via Randy Lange of the team’s site). The Jets could Stanford on Friday, but both sides knew that was only a procedural move. Last season was the first as a Jet for the 26-year-old Stanford, who appeared in nine games (two starts) and played about a quarter of their defensive snaps and a third of their special teams snaps.

Minor NFL Transactions: 3/3/17

Friday’s minor moves…

  • The Steelers placed an original round tender on restricted free agent cornerback Ross Cockrell, a source tells Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). A fourth-round pick of the Bills in 2014, Cockrell has started the last two years for Pittsburgh and is now free negotiate with other teams. However, the Steelers reserve the right to match any offer. Cockrell is slated to play 2017 on the low tender, which should be worth roughly $1.8MM.
  • The Packers are bringing back punter Jake Schum, an exclusive rights free agent (Twitter link via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com). He will take his physical and sign next week.
  • The Lions have re-signed long snapper Don Muhlbach to a one-year deal, tweets Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • The Vikings will retain exclusive rights free agent tackle Jeremiah Sirles for $690K, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link).