Cockrell recorded career highs with 43 tackles, two interceptions and 11 pass deflections during the 2015 season.
The 24-year-old was set to be an exclusive-rights free agent, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, but he's ensured a return to Pittsburgh just four days after the Steelers' season ended in the AFC Divisional Round against the Denver Broncos.
Thanks to a weakened Steelers secondary, Cockrell had a chance at regular playing time in Pittsburgh. During his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills, he appeared in just seven games, recording one tackle.
He spoke with Steelers.com's Teresa Varley after signing the extension:
This was very important. I feel like we had a tremendous season. It didn’t end the way we wanted. But for me, everybody got to know me and I got to know everybody. Everything just happened so fast. It’s important for me to have this offseason to get to know people better, grow as a football player and person.
He also discussed just how much Pittsburgh and the Steelers organization mean to him:
As soon as I got here I just felt welcomed. Playing on the field, winning games, it’s special here. It was a great experience overall. Playing for the Steelers means you are somebody who is striving for greatness. You want your team, your city, this organization to be more. That is what you get from everybody. You feel like you represent more than just yourself.
Pittsburgh's pass defense was ranked 30th in the league in 2015 after ranking sixth in 2014. It looked like the loss of Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brice McCain during the 2015 offseason seemed to be too much for the secondary to handle.
Cockrell was the Steelers' third-best option at cornerback behind William Gay and Antwon Blake, while Brandon Boykin, who came over from the Philadelphia Eagles put together a poor first season with the team.
Ensured to be in the black and gold for at least another season, Cockrell will have another chance to step up even more and try to turn the Steelers secondary into a formidable unit. If things can straighten out in the Steel City and Cockrell and Co. can defend against the pass, the Steelers could advance further than the divisional round next season.
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com
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