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Thursday, March 20, 2014
Cotchery a start, but won't solve WR issues

By David Newton

The sun came out in Charlotte for the first time this week on Thursday, and with it came a ray of hope for the Carolina Panthers' much-maligned wide receiver corps.

Or lack of corps, that is.

Pittsburgh Steelers free agent Jerricho Cotchery chose to play for what I would have to believe is the only NFL team that doesn't have any of its top four wide receivers back from last season.

Jerricho Cotchery
New Panther Jerricho Cotchery caught 46 passes last season, making the veteran Carolina's most accomplished receiver by a wide margin.
The 31-year-old won't solve all of Carolina's woes at the position, but he's a start.

Cotchery gives the Panthers a veteran to help bring along youngsters such as Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King, who until now were considered the team's top wide receivers.

And neither has an NFL catch.

The Panthers also are expected to draft a wide receiver with one of their top two picks, the first is No. 28 overall.

Even with Cotchery's age, Carolina is on target to have the youngest receiving corps in the league.

Cotchery's signing should at least end many of the jokes that have been thrust at Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman since the Panthers a week ago released all-time leading receiver Steve Smith, then lost Brandon LaFell (Patriots), Ted Ginn Jr. (Cardinals) and Domenik Hixon (Bears) in free agency.

One came from the team's top rusher from last season.

"Well looking at things as they stand Jonathan [Stewart] and I will be high fantasy draft picks," running back DeAngelo Williams joked on Twitter.

Cotchery won't change that. He also won't replace Smith. His best seasons came from 2006-2008, when he caught 82, 82, and 71 passes, respectively. His 46 catches last season were the first time since 2010 that he's caught more than 17 in a season.

But he had a career-high 10 touchdowns, which is six more than Smith and five more than any other Carolina wide receiver. He's more of a slot-type receiver, so look for him to fit in as a complement to whoever the Panthers draft or sign.

In all likelihood, the Panthers won't have a bona fide No. 1 receiver as they have had with Smith -- and he was more like a 1.5 at best with 64 catches for 745 yards last season.

About the only thing Cotchery and Smith have in common as a No. 1 is both wear the No. 89.

Will Cotchery wear No. 89 at Carolina, a number that one day could end up on the team's Wall of Honor? Should he be allowed to?

That might be a bigger question -- at least for fans -- than what happens with the rest of the receiving corps.