The former Bill, Steeler, Giant, and Panther didn’t have a home (figuratively) when the 2020 season started. Cockrell was slated to re-sign with the Giants back in August of that year, but things fell apart when Cockrell wouldn’t accept the financial terms of the deal.
It didn’t take him long to a find new team. The Bucs signed Cockrell to the practice squad on September 23, just a few days before the Week 3 matchup with the Denver Broncos. Sean Murphy-Bunting injured his hamstring in that game, which made Cockrell even more valuable to the team. Outside of his abilities, of course.
A few weeks later, the Bucs promoted Cockrell to the active roster. Five days after that game, they signed him to the active roster. He primarily played special teams until Week 11 against the Rams. Jamel Dean, the team’s third cornerback, went down with a concussion, so Cockrell stepped in. He started the next game against the Chiefs due to Dean’s placement in concussion protocol and played an average of 61.4% of defensive snaps over the five final games of the regular season.
Cockrell proved himself to be a valuable commodity during that time. Even as much to where Bruce Arians specifically mentioned -and praised- his contributions in mid-December.
“Ross has been a great addition to our ballclub,” Arians told reporters back in December via Zoom. “He was a great pickup. [He is a] really heady player, multiple-position guy. He’s in there at 4:30 in the morning watching film. So, he’s been a tremendous addition to us and very valuable in these last few ballgames.”
The Bucs’ decision to sign Cockrell paid off in a big way. So, they decided to re-up with the veteran corner during the offseason. However, it wasn’t just a one-year, prove-it deal. The Bucs actually hooked Cockrell up with a two-year, $2.11 million deal. The extra year showed what the Bucs really think of Cockrell and how much he means to the team.
And so far, he’s proving himself even more valuable through the first four days of training camp.
The Bucs are having issues with their safety depth. Jordan Whitehead -who is also recovering from a torn labrum suffered in January- was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list before training camp began. Antoine Winfield Jr. tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. He missed Monday’s practice before returning Tuesday after the initial test was deemed as a false positive. Raven Greene, a May free agent signing, has yet to make an appearance at camp from what Arians has deemed as personal reasons.
But all of that may be moot. The Bucs have played Cockrell at safety since Day One of camp and he’s impressed every single day.
“He’s a guy that he’s so smart he can play a lot of positions,” Arians told reporters on Sunday. “He might give us an ability to bring up another gunner if he can cover three or four spots for roster [on] game day.”
Cockrell has done nothing but fly around and make plays since joining the safety group. He recorded his second interception of camp on Wednesday and was just inches away from making an interception three days in a row on Tuesday. And he’s not just making plays. He’s lining guys up and telling them where they need to be before the play begins. Cockrell has the mental side of things down, as well, which is obviously huge.
It’s a helluva story: To go from unsigned, to contributor, to a multi-year contract, to becoming even more effective and valuable in terms of play and roster management. Like Arians said: Cockrell’s development at safety not only helps out the the Bucs’ current situation, but his versatility may lend the Bucs another roster spot. And we all know how valuable those are in the NFL.
And you have to wonder how much bigger Cockrell’s story gets from here. But one thing is for certain: The bigger the story becomes, the better it is for both Cockrell and the Bucs.