Why Jerricho Cotchery in Carolina Cuts so Deep in Pittsburgh

After some back and forth, news broke today that veteran free agent wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery is leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers for the Carolina Panthers.

  • Cotchery is hardly the first player to defect, but his departure will hurt more than all the others thus far.

That’s not to devalue the potential contributions that the others could have made. Ziggy Hood knows the defensive system. Al Woods is just now growing into a legit NFL defensive end/nose tackle. David Johnson looked sharp before his injury. Jonathan Dwyer ran every carry as if it were his last. Emmanuel Sanders has shown he’s a quality number 2 NFL receiver, if not more.

  • But the Steelers can more easily replace what those men take with them.

What did Jerricho Cotchery do? To paraphrase what Buddy Ryan once said about Cris Carter “All he did was catch touchdowns.”

Cotchery and the Steelers, By the Numbers

There are two types of lies. Outright falsehoods and dam statistics. But in Cotchery’s numbers reveal a telling truth for the Steelers:

  • 13 – Cotchery is one of only 13 NFL 2013 receivers who broke double digits in TD’s
  • 5% — That’s puts him in the top 5% of NFL’s 2013 pass catchers in 2013
  • 24% — Cotchery’s share of the Steelers 2013 TD production
  • 13% — There’s that lucky numeral again, this time as his portion of Steelers 2013 receptions
  • 8 – Total number of receptions  by fullback Will Johnson in 2013
  • 8 –of Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye’s combined 2013 reception total

The Steelers plan is to replace Emmanuel Sanders with Markus Wheaton, and the plan might work. But the 1998 Steelers tried that with Will Blackwell. Memories of how that worked out (click here) likely colored their plans to keep Cotchery around as insurance.

  • Double digit touchdown figures in the NFL don’t happen by accident.

In 2004, a lot of Steelers fans took umbrage at Jerome Bettis stealing Duce Staley’s thunder by going in at goal line situations to score touchdowns. There’s a reason why it worked. Getting into the end zone is not easy, and Bill Cowher knew what he was doing in riding The Bus into the paint.

  • Cotchery’s 10 TD haul in 2013 arguably more impressive. 

Unless your name is Rodney Carter (see the 1989 Steelers), no one makes a career in the NFL out of “Going out and getting open.” Cotchery’s ability to come down with the ball 10 times in the end zone shows at a point in his career where he can combined ability with veteran savvy.

  • That veteran savvy will be missed elsewhere.

By all accounts the Steelers 2012 wide receiver room was a mess, absent Hines Ward. That’s the likely reason why Mike Tomlin replaced inexperienced Scotty Montgomery with Richard Mann, someone who exudes “Been there, done that.”

  • Even before Cotchery’s departure the Steelers were likely to take a wide out early in the 2014 NFL Draft. 

Cotchery could have severed as the perfect mentor. Antonio  Brown can serve that role to an extent, but he still has some maturing to do, as evidenced by his benching vs. New England and his reaction to not getting more throws from Ben Roethlisberger in the season finale vs. Cleveland.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers have of course weathered far worse losses than Jerricho Cotchery in their history.

They’ll weather this one too. But this is very much a team of younger players who are in the midst of delicate process that is known as “learning how to win.” And Jerricho Cotchery was a perfect mentor on that path. He will be missed.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2014 Free Agent Focus.

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