March 28, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Brandon Boykin is hoping a new start with the Carolina Panthers will bring big rewards.

The unrestricted free agent cornerback from the Pittsburgh Steelers signed a one-year contract with the Panthers on Monday after a difficult season in 2015. Financial terms were not available Monday.

''When you talk about the defense they have and the opportunity I have to come in play, it was just a no-brainer,'' Boykin said Monday on a conference call.

The Steelers traded a fifth-round draft to the Eagles last year to acquire Boykin, then barely played him at all in the first 12 games. After Russell Wilson threw for five TDs against the Steelers in Week 12, coach Mike Tomlin changed up the lineup and gave Boykin a chance.

Boykin responded with an interception, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and a sack in the final four games.

With Carolina cornerback Bene Benwikere moving to the outside to assume a starting role next season opposite All-Pro Josh Norman, the team's designated franchise player, Boykin is expected to compete for the team's nickel cornerback spot.

''They really know that is where I thrive and I have been extremely productive there,'' Boykin said of the Panthers.

The 25-year-old Boykin has played in all 64 games and started seven during his four seasons in the NFL. He spent the first three seasons with the Eagles before joining the Steelers in 2015.

Boykin had 25 tackles in 2015, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. His best season came in 2013 when he had a career-high 42 tackles and six interceptions for 136 yards, including a 76-yard return for a touchdown.

''Brandon brings a lot of versatility,'' Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said in a release. ''He's athletic, smart, instinctive, tough, and has quality ball skills. Brandon is a very good piece for our defense and brings solid special teams value as well. We're excited to add Brandon to our roster.''

The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Boykin said he received interest from four teams in free agency, but felt Carolina was the best fit. The Panthers have been a top 10 defense for the past three seasons and led the NFL in takeaways in 2015.

''When you look at the dynamic of the defensive line, the linebackers and then the secondary, they have athletes and ball hogs all over the field,'' said Boykin, a fourth-round draft pick by the Eagles in 2014. ''Even when I was in Pittsburgh you couldn't help but see what Carolina was doing on defense.''

The decision to sign Boykin could signal the end of veteran Charles Tillman's tenure in Carolina. Tillman, who is an unrestricted free agent, was a starter in 2015 before tearing the ACL in his knee, ending his second prematurely.

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