Two years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were believed to have the best overall receiving group in the league. In 2014, such talk has grown more silent than a whisper.
Antonio Brown garners some attention, maintaining his position among NFL statistical leaders for most of the year. Jerricho Cotchery emerged once again as one of the league's best kept secrets, doing his best Chris - all I do is catch touchdowns - Carter impression all season long. Unfortunately, beyond these two men, the Steelers have received little else from their wideouts.
When it comes to Chris Carter impersonations, Emmanuel Sanders has done a better job of emulating the fledgling backup Steelers linebacker than the Minnesota Vikings WR legend when it comes to catching the football. A player possessing all the necessary skills to succeed at the position constantly finds himself burdened with misfortune at inopportune times - 2pt. conversions, 3rd downs and touchdowns.
Beyond Sanders, rookie Markus Wheaton possesses all the potential in the world, but has struggled to stay on the field with injuries and has not exhibited the most reliable hands in his first season; although there were flashes at times bright enough to see a brilliant career ahead. Derek Moye made an amazing leaping grab against the Baltimore Ravens while being flipped mid-air landing on his head; but allowed a touchdown to slip through his outstretched hands on a diving attempt later in the same game. Moye has been inactive for most of the season since.
No matter how much potential Sanders possesses, his time in Pittsburgh is over; primarily because the team will already be starting 2014 with a team cap figure of over $134 million. Sanders will attract offers in free-agency, and the team will be more unable than unwilling to compete for his services.
The Steelers will have a little bit of wiggle room to clear some cap space by restructuring Brown's contract, but will spend most of his savings filling out the depth chart.
One more name which should be considered here is 2012 seventh-round draft pick Justin Brown, who has maintained a spot on the team's practice squad all season. His contract would list as follows on the preseason ledger.
For a team whose fanbase is often clamoring for big and tall receivers, the Steelers will have two under contract in Moye and J. Brown.
The Steelers may not be able to compete for Sanders, but they will need to make an effort to retain Cotchery. His veteran experience and personal tenacity have made him a great fit as a slot receiver to battle in the middle of the field. He won't be considered a true 'No. 2' option to compliment A. Brown, but he has earned the top spot when someone needs to play the slot.
Cotchery was a good receiver with plenty of quality film when he was released by the New York Jets. He has posted big TD numbers this year, but he hasn't been given the targets to inflate his yardage totals in years-past. The Steelers offered him a modest contract which he accepted, and he has proudly been a Steeler ever since.
The team is expected to offer him a similar contract this off-season.
Actual structure and length may vary, but approximate averages should fall within this range.
In order to afford the addition of Cotchery and a draft pick or two in 2014, the team will most likely restructure A. Brown's contract, which would look something like this.
By restructuring $5 million of Brown's base salary, the Steelers would save $3.75 million in 2014 and only add $1.25 million in dead money to each of his three remaining seasons. The $3.75 million savings would cover the proposed contract to Cotchery, the addition of J. Brown's full contract value should he make the roster and any playmakers acquired through the NFL draft. Even after filling out the depth chart, there will still be a little bit of savings to put toward the rest of the roster.
The Steelers still need a compliment to Antonio Brown. A physical playmaking receiver would open up opportunities for Cotchery, Wheaton and Brown to shred coverages. Expect WR to climb a few rankings in this year's best player available equation. Free agency is not the answer here, or else the team would compete for Sanders.
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