The Steelers strengthened their somewhat thin corps of wide receivers Wednesday when they came to a two-year, $3 million contract agreement with Jerricho Cotchery.
It puts three of their five top receivers from last season under contract for 2012 after Hines Ward's release and subsequent retirement and with only eight days left for Mike Wallace to sign elsewhere as a restricted free agent or return to the team.
There still is some question exactly when and how Wallace will return to the team even if the April 20 deadline passes for him to sign another team's contract offer. ESPN reported that if that deadline passes, Wallace will not sign the one-year, $2,742,000 contract tender the Steelers presented him under RFA rules. The network reported that Wallace will not participate in any spring workouts unless he and the team come to terms on a multiple-year contract.
Once that April 20 deadline passes, however, Wallace can sign with no other team but the Steelers, whether it's the one-year tender or a longer-term deal.
Cotchery, who turns 30 in June, signed a one-year contract with the Steelers in August after the New York Jets granted his request to release him after he spent his first seven NFL seasons there. He made several trips to teams as an unrestricted free agent this year, although he declared his desire to return to the Steelers.
Cotchery, who started 65 games for the Jets, was no more than the fourth or fifth receiver for much of the 2011 season with the Steelers. He moved up in a dramatic way on the depth chart, however, when coach Mike Tomlin benched Ward as a starter Nov. 13 and the offense began using Cotchery more in Ward's role.
Cotchery finished with 16 receptions for 237 yards and two touchdowns and added a 31-yard touchdown reception in their playoff loss at Denver.
With Wallace expected to return after receiving no substantial offers as a restricted free agent, the Steelers again should have a strong corps of wide receivers despite the retirement of Ward. Wallace and Cotchery will be joined by Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
The Steelers also signed unrestricted free-agent tight end Leonard Pope Tuesday.
The Jets drafted Cotchery, who played at North Carolina State, in the fourth round in 2004. He started five games as a rookie and became a regular starter in 2005. Cotchery, however, lost his starting job in 2009.
Three college players, all linebacker prospects, visited the Steelers Wednesday: Mychal Kendricks of California, Cameron Johnson of Virginia and Olivier Vernon of Miami, Fla. Kendricks is an inside linebacker; the other two would be outside linebackers in a 3-4 and defensive ends in a 4-3.