Ex-Steelers WR Cotchery to sign with Carolina

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 1:21 p.m.

Jerricho Cotchery unexpectedly improvised his route, and now the Steelers are scrambling not only for a No. 2 wide receiver but also a No. 3.

The Steelers were eager to retain Cotchery following his 10-touchdown catch season — and he appeared to want to return — but he instead signed an $8.015 million, five-year contract Thursday with the Carolina Panthers.

Despite also losing starting receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the Denver Broncos, team president Art Rooney II said it's still “early in the game.”

“I'm satisfied with the progress we've made in general to this date, the signings we've made,” he said. “We have more work to do.”

The Steelers signed safety Mike Mitchell and nose tackle Cam Thomas but have yet to make a significant offseason addition to the offense. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew and receiver Lance Moore visited this week, but both left town without signing.

“We're having conversations with a number of players and staying in touch with players,” Rooney said.

The Steelers effectively had Cotchery to themselves last week as he took part in a team-promoted cruise. But the Panthers, who lost the NFC title game at home to San Francisco, made a push after losing receivers Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon in free agency and releasing Steve Smith.

“(They) have an opportunity to get to the Super Bowl,” Cotchery told North Carolina reporters after signing. “That's what I play the game for, and they're building something special.”

Cotchery played at North Carolina State with quarterback Philip Rivers and holds the school record with 200 receptions.

Cotchery's departure leaves Antonio Brown as the Steelers' only receiver with more than minimal experience. Markus Wheaton made six catches during an injury-interrupted rookie season, and former Penn State receiver Derek Moye is also on the roster.

Cotchery has 437 catches in 10 seasons with the New York Jets and Steelers, including 46 for 602 yards and a team-high 10 TDs last season.

“I left Ben Roethlisberger,” Cotchery said. “If you're going to leave a quarterback like that, you better be sure that you're going to someone that can play at a high level. We have that here with Cam Newton.”

Cotchery's contract, on file with the NFLPA, includes a $2.25 million signing bonus and salaries of $1.25 million, $1.45 million, $1 million, $1 million and $1.05 million, or about the league minimum except for 2015.

Staff writer Mark Kaboly contributed. Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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