The Pittsburgh Steelers find that their 2016 season ended a bit prematurely, and are undergoing the exit meeting process a couple weeks sooner than they would have liked. Never the less, what must be done must be done, and we are now at the time of the year where we close the book on one season and look ahead to the next.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2016 season.
Player: Ross Cockrell
Experience: 3 Years
The Steelers picked up Ross Cockrell off the proverbial scrap heap a mere 18 months ago after coming off his rookie season as a former fourth-round draft pick with sparse at best contributions to the Bills, the team that originally drafted him and released him during the first wave of 2015 roster cuts.
He has since become their top player at the position, although that ranking in the hierarchy will be under threat in 2017 during former first-round draft pick Artie Burns’ sophomore season. Yet in 2016 Cockrell was as good as it would get for the Steelers as a cornerback. And he will return as a starter, in all likelihood, next year.
Many are harder on the three-year veteran than his play dictates. Perhaps he is not the player that you want as your best cornerback, but he has shown the potential to be a competent starter in the Steelers’ system. He obviously needs to improve his tackling, both against the pass and in run support, but he has shown an effort and willingness to do so.
There were some games earlier in the season during which the Steelers allowed him to follow a wide receiver for the majority of the game. That is an interesting wrinkle that I doubt many anticipated that they would see from Cockrell. When Artie Burns emerged from the lineup, they had to move away from that in order to keep things simple for the unpolished rookie.
By next season, however, Burns’ development will hopefully mean that Cockrell would not have to shadow a player anyway. Both cornerbacks have some man coverage skills that can be utilized with greater frequency and to greater effect as the younger player gains a better understanding of what it is that he is expected to be doing within the defense.
It will be interesting to see how the Steelers handle Cockrell’s free agency status as a restricted free agent. I have no doubt that there are other teams in the league who view him as a decent starting option, and may be willing to part with a fourth-round pick if he is given an original-round tender. I would not be shocked if the team gives him a higher tender as a result.