Marty Hurney closed out the workweek by signing Da’Norris Searcy (SS), Jeremiah Sirles (G), and Ross Cockrell (CB). It was an important week of free agency that strengthened Carolina’s roster as dig in for the draft. In the absence of Andrew Norwell, Kurt Coleman, and the failed signing of Bashaud Breeland, Carolina had significant needs on both on both sides of the ball.
Each of these signings fortified a position of need, which gives the Panthers added flexibility heading into the draft. None of these signings should be seen as finalizing aspects of the roster. They were important and necessary moves in forming a roster that has layers of personnel needs that influence far more than a single position group.
Stabilizing Carolina’s secondary has been Marty Hurney’s first priority this season. He locked in on cornerback Bashaud Breeland early, but when that deal fell through, Carolina was feeling the pressure after having already released veteran safety, Kurt Coleman, and trading Daryl Worley. Hurney again found a side entrance to the building as we gushed over Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reed. Mathieu was likely out of reach all along and Reed deserves a higher price tag that he will probably get, but also sadly seems to be being overlooked to this point in free agency.
Searcy, while less acclaimed, is a cheaper solution to the position group and a better player than most believe. Searcy was a high-profile free agent in 2015 when Carolina was still in the same position of need. Searcy signed a 24 million dollar contract with Tennessee, however. Searcy ultimately found himself as the man on the outside looking in after the Titans finished 3-13 and later added Jonathan Cyprien. Searcy never played badly in Tennessee. It always seemed that he was the baby who was thrown out with the bathwater.
Three years later, Carolina finally landed their man. A lot has changed in that time. Searcy is a vet who hasn’t found the success that the hype of 2015 promised. The hard-hitter is also looking to find that second wind that so many safeties have found in Carolina.
Revealing today that Carolina appealed specifically to him because of the opening at left guard left by Norwell, Sirles seeks to compete for the starting job in Carolina. He will likely be in direct competition with Taylor Moton, last year’s second-round pick, but Bill Voth has repeatedly indicated that Carolina ideally sees Moton as an offensive tackle.
Sirles was an undrafted free agent originally signed by the San Diego Chargers and later traded to the Minnesota Vikings. While in Minnesota, Sirles saw his first significant game reps against the Carolina Panthers after Alex Boone was injured. Sirles came to Minnesota without experience but also brought a level of versatility that showed as he moved around the Vikings line for the rest of the season filling hole after hole left by the injury bug.
Sirles could end up being a helpful addition to the line. He, at the very least, adds depth and competition at guard. Sirles potential as a contributing lineman may also offer some competition for Matt Kalil. If adequate, Carolina could consider fast-tracking Moton as a real competitor for Kalil who has been inconsistent at best.
He’s a backyard baller that I honestly don’t know a lot about. He played high-school football at Charlotte Latin and then went on to Duke University. He was then drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills making him teammates with Searcy for a year. Cockrell was a multi-sport athlete in college, playing football, basketball, and running track. He’s been described as a heady player with a nose for the ball who can thrive in zone coverage. Rex Ryan would trade Cockrell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he would eventually lose his job to Joe Haden. Cockrell then went to start 9 games and snag three interceptions for the New York Giants.
Panthers signing of Ross Cockrell should be a great scheme fit.— Sports Info Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) March 23, 2018
They used zone coverage on 52% of snaps last year (5th most)
Cockrell was dominant in zone:
13.8 QB Rating Allowed (1st)
35% Comp % (5th)
3.6 Y/T (6th)
81% Success Rate (5th)
Among 137 CBs > 100 coverage snaps https://t.co/Ujf9wHvqyS
Crockrell is the type of player who typically flourishes in a Carolina Panthers defense. Zone coverage doesn’t require the greatest athleticism. It does require a defensive back to play fast, which starts above the shoulders honestly. Cockrell may just come to excel in a defense doesn’t ask the corners to do too much.
Hurney has made some important moves throughout this free-agency period already. Friday’s acquisitions may not be the most exciting. These types of moves are necessary in the roster building process and sometimes to pan out to be the most rewarding when they work out.
By Tony Dunn
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