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Panthers sign safety Searcy, corner Cockrell to two-year deals

Posted Mar 23, 2018

Da'Norris Searcy and Ross Cockrell - a pair of veterans with significant experience as starters - get two-year contracts that will bolster defensive back depth.

CHARLOTTE – Safety Da'Norris Searcy and cornerback Ross Cockrell, defensive backs with 11 NFL seasons under their belts and a combined 65 starts over the past three seasons, have signed two-year contracts with the Panthers.

Both are former fourth-round draft picks by the Bills (Searcy in 2011, Cockrell in 2014), and both have ties to the state of North Carolina. Searcy played collegiately at the University of North Carolina, while Cockrell played at Charlotte Latin and Duke University.

Searcy, 29, was released by the Titans about two weeks ago in advance of the new league year, having served as a reliable reserve in 2017 and a starter for 27 games in 2015 and '16. The 5-foot-11, 207-pounder became the Titans' third safety last season after Tennessee signed Johnathan Cyprien in free agency a year ago.

With the Panthers, Searcy joins a team that will give him the opportunity to return to starter status. Carolina is looking for a replacement for Kurt Coleman, released last month, to pair with veteran Mike Adams. Searcy, has missed just five games over his seven NFL seasons and has started more than half of his 107 career games.

Searcy, like Adams, has been used primarily as a strong safety, but the distinction between strong and free safety isn't a particularly important one in Carolina's defensive scheme.

Searcy steadily rose through the ranks after college, serving primarily as a special teams contributor his first two seasons with the Bills. He enjoyed his most productive season statistically as a part-time starter in 2013, recording a still-career-high 69 tackles while scoring his two career touchdowns on a 74-yard fumble return and a 32-yard interception return.

He moved into a full-time starting role in 2014, then signed with the Titans as an unrestricted free agent after the season and started in 2015 and '16. During his seven-year career, Searcy has 323 tackles, eight interceptions, 28 passes defensed, 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.

Cockrell, 26, started 32 games over the past three seasons for the Steelers and Giants. He has 157 career tackles with five interceptions and 36 passes defensed.

After Cockrell played primarily on special teams as a rookie in 2014, the Bills waived the 6-foot, 191-pounder just before the start of the 2015 season. The Steelers signed him days later and he contributed immediately as a part-time starter. In 2016, Cockrell started every game at outside corner for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers traded Cockrell to the Giants just before the start of last season for a seventh-round draft pick. He played in every game, starting nine times, and recorded a career-high three interceptions before becoming an unrestricted free agent after the season.

The move comes after the Panthers traded cornerback Daryl Worley, who started opposite James Bradberry most of last season, to the Eagles in exchange for wide receiver Torrey Smith. Carolina thought it had secured its new starter when it reached an agreement with corner Bashaud Breeland last week, but Breeland wasn't signed after failing a physical.

Cockrell has 32 career starts; Bradberry has 29. Captain Munnerlyn has 80 starts in his nine-year career but mostly as a nickel corner. The other five corners currently on Carolina's roster have a total of six NFL starts.