Steelers lose Jerricho Cotchery to Carolina Panthers

Surprised by Jerricho Cotchery's choice to leave them, the Steelers now must determine the best path to stock their thin wide receiver corps.

Sign a veteran now, or turn everything over to young receivers?

Pro Bowler Antonio Brown, 25, is their oldest and only receiver with much experience on the roster after the Steelers lost Cotchery Thursday to the Carolina Panthers. He signed a two-year contract. The Steelers recently lost starter Emmanuel Sanders to the Denver Broncos.

The team could turn to former New Orleans receiver Lance Moore to take Cotchery's place. Moore, who visited the Steelers Wednesday, caught 37 passes for 457 yards in 2013, his eighth season with the Saints, who then cut him. He caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards in 2012.

But the Steelers do not see 5-foot-9 Moore in 6-1 Cotchery's league as a possession slot receiver, and they might just cast their lot with their young receivers -- and the one or more they will draft.

The Steelers drafted one a year ago, Markus Wheaton, in the third round. He did not play as much as they had hoped because of hand injuries, and caught just six passes. The only other receiver who caught a pass after the top three was Derek Moye, with two.

Justin Brown, a sixth-round draft pick in 2013, spent his rookie season on the practice squad, as did first-year pro Kashif Moore, who is with his fifth team in two seasons without making a 53-man roster.

Lanear Sampson, 23, is the only other receiver on the roster.

Sure-handed Cotchery, working out of the slot as the No. 3 receiver, caught 45 passes for 602 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns in 2013, his third and best season in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers wanted to keep the veteran receiver, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger pleaded for them to do so.

Cotchery, who will be 32 in June, played at North Carolina State before the New York Jets drafted him in the fourth round in 2004.

The Steelers signed him in 2011 training camp after the New York Jets cut him at his request. He will enter his 11th season in the NFL with his third team.

Moore was productive in eight seasons with the Saints, where he first served on the practice squad as a rookie in 2005 after the Cleveland Browns signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Toledo, then cut him.

Although never a full-time starter, Moore caught 79 passes for 928 yards in his third season and has 346 receptions for 4,281 yards and 38 touchdowns in his career, all with New Orleans. He turns 31 in August.

First Published March 20, 2014 1:49 PM

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