The Pittsburgh Steelers have 21 players who will be unrestricted free agents when their currents contracts expire March 21, so management has quite a few decisions to make before the roster is set.
Here is a position-by-position look at the current players and what could occur during the upcoming months. This third story looks at the wide receivers.
PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown is heading into his fifth NFL season, the Steelers have a No. 1 wideout among the best in the league. He is under contract until 2017 and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2018. So, he and Ben Roethlisberger have four more years to shine. Brown's six-year, $43.04 million contract extension in 2012 was an excellent move by the Steelers. It included an $8.5 million signing bonus and an additional $3.85 million "signing'' bonus this past season. Brown is scheduled to make $6 million in each of the next two seasons and $8.25 million in 2016. Brown will get $8.71 million during his final season.
It won't be easy for Brown to replicate his 2013 production, 110 catches for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns, but it would be nice if he could get double-digit scores. Still, Brown is set as the club's No. 1 pass-catcher, so finding a No. 2 wideout will be the key for the Steelers. Unrestricted free agents Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders have to be considered. But there's a good chance that Cotchery will be the only one to return.
Burress has played in just 30 games since the 2007 season when he had 70 catches for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he will turn 37 during training camp this year. Coming off a serious shoulder injury, he should consider retirement, and the Steelers should not re-sign him. Sanders will be difficult to re-sign after making 67 catches for 740 yards and six scores in 2013. Some believe he faltered just about every time he had a chance to make a big play, but there was production there that will be difficult to replace.
Cotchery was clutch more times than not this past season, and at 32 this year he could still have a couple more seasons remaining. He had 46 catches for 602 yards and a career-best 10 touchdowns. Cotchery was among the best in the NFL last season making third-down catches for first downs, and none of his Steelers teammates reached the end zone more often. He needs to return.
There are several other candidates to make the Steelers as wideouts. Two second-year players, Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye, should be among them. Wheaton has three years remaining on his rookie contract for $2,811,376 that had a $591,376 signing bonus. He won't cost the team a lot of money -- $515,000 this year, $605,000 in 2015 and $695,000 in the final year -- but needs to play far above that level. Moye had a two-year deal, so he is signed for this coming season at $495,000. He will be an exclusive rights free agent in 2015 and won't be re-signed then if he doesn't take advantage more often of his opportunities. He made a couple plays, but also missed out on a few.
The Steelers also have several players with reserve-future contracts: Lanear Sampson, Justin Brown, Kashif Moore and Jasper Collins. Brown and Moore spent last season on the club's practice squad, so they should have the upper hand among this group. Collins originally signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Mount Union, but was waived-injured by Miami and signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad. He was released before the season and signed to the Dolphins' practice squad before being released with a few regular-season games remaining, while Sampson spent the majority of the 2013 season on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad. He originally signed with the Colts as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Baylor.You can read Part I Quarterbacks here and check out Part II Running backs here
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