By Matthew Marczi
Earlier this week, we talked about the ever-insightful Jason La Canfora and his analysis that the existence of Jerricho Cotchery as the third receiver on the depth chart for the Pittsburgh Steelers amounts to a ‘surplus’ at the position, which would afford the team the luxury of trading away that surplus in compensation for—what—a seventh round draft pick? Maybe a sixth?
The Steelers trading away Cotchery would not be a sound move for the team on any level, and it is unlikely that they would even entertain the idea. Even back in February when the team was expected to sign Steve Breaston, the team had no interest in trading away Cotchery. Ditto when Plaxico Burress was signed. The Steelers drafted two wide receivers, and Cotchery’s value to the team still did not change.
Since then, the team has lost Burress for the season due to a shoulder injury, making him no worse than the fourth receiver in just about any package the Steelers could run, even assuming that rookie Markus Wheaton well and truly jumps ahead of the veteran outright to start the season, rather than simply stealing some reps.
For an NFL team in 2013, especially one with an established franchise quarterback, having four receivers you know you can count on in no way constitutes what could be fairly described as a surplus. And saying that you know you can count on a rookie third-round draft pick before he plays a game is also a bit of a stretch, even for one seemingly as promising as Wheaton.
That also ignores the fact that every receiver in the roster is making a jump up the ranks this year with the departure of Mike Wallace. Antonio Brown is now the clear, undisputed number one receiver, something he has never been, while Emmanuel Sanders is entering a starting role after primarily manning the slot since his rookie season.
Even with many of the same faces, there has been a lot of shuffling amongst the wide receivers, and that includes introducing a new wide receivers coach, Richard Mann. Now is certainly not the time to be dealing pieces away.
However, even assuming the premise that receivers such as Justin Brown, Derek Moye, and J.D. Woods legitimately constitute a ‘surplus’ of NFL-ready talent at the wide receiver position—making Cotchery a luxury commodity fit to be dealt—the questions that arise are these: what is Jerricho Cotchery’s value to the team in 2013? And what value could we get in return for him?
As cliché as it may sound, much of Cotchery’s value is intangible, unquantifiable on a stats sheet. Yes, in two seasons with the team, Cotchery may have just 33 receptions for 442 yards and two touchdowns—a reflection more of the talent ahead of him than of his own—but his presence in a room full of young receivers offers the Steelers a lot more beyond on-field production.
In fact, having him around all of the young receivers—including the Justin Browns, the Derek Moyes, the Reggie Dunns—increases not only his value to the team, but also the value of these young players.
Antonio Brown may be the number one receiver on the team, but Cotchery is the leader in the meeting rooms and in practices. The veteran has seen a lot more in his time around the league than the others both ahead of and behind him on the depth chart, and he can pass that knowledge on, teach the tricks of the trade, to make his teammates better players.
Cotchery is the only significant contributor in the meeting rooms that has ever played under a position coach other than Scottie Montgomery. He was far from the tactician that Richard Mann is, and Cotchery is the player-coach on the field helping transfer the coach’s lessons into practice. More importantly, he understands that that is part of his job as the veteran in the room:
I\'ve played in a lot of games and gained a lot of experience over the years. I\'ve seen enough things that I can share with them. I\'ve seen so many looks that I know what\'s going on when a guy lines up over me.
So, I try to share that with a young guy like Wheaton. If I\'m not sharing everything I know — as well as making plays myself — then I\'m not helping us accomplish our goal of winning the Super Bowl.
Winning teams tend to have players like that, who can translate the coaches’ lessons to the younger players by relaying that message through their own playing experience. Players like Hines Ward, Chris Hoke, James Farrior. Players like Carnell Lake, who is in his third season as the team’s secondary coach, coming off back-to-back seasons of surrendering the fewest yards in the league.
Players of this caliber do not simply possess this skill by virtue of longevity. Sure, maybe you can show a guy a trick or two if you’ve been around the game a decade longer than he has, but being a leader, being an instructor is something else entirely, and the Steelers are fortunate to have a player capable of that in Cotchery. That is far more than any miniscule draft compensation or salary cap savings that the team would net by virtue of trading him away. Especially when teams know that he is in the final year of his contract, hurting his market value.