The decision for Cotchery came down to choosing between a return to the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Panthers, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
David Newton of ESPN had details on the money Cotchery received:
WR Jerricho Cotchery's deal with #Panthers is 2-year worth $5 million, sources said.— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) March 20, 2014
Majority of Cotchery's $5 mil will come in first yr. But this was about more than money. Was about adding much needed experience. #Panthers— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) March 20, 2014
The 31-year-old receiver finished last season with 46 catches for 602 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns with the Steelers. He immediately becomes the most accomplished player at the position on Carolina's roster, although that's not saying much at this point.
An already weak group of targets was dealt another blow when the team released veteran wideout Steve Smith. Even though the longtime Panther had shown signs of aging in recent seasons, he was still the unquestioned top wide receiver at the disposal of Cam Newton.
General manager Dave Gettleman released a statement on the team's official site explaining his rationale behind the move:
As I've stated many times, all decisions I make will be in the long-term best interest of the Carolina Panthers. Decisions, either popular or unpopular, have to be made for the greater good, and it is imperative to take an unemotional global view.
What is the best Carolina should hope for from Cotchery?
Nevertheless, it left the Panthers with a major void on the outside. Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt were among the top options left on the roster, and neither of them should be expected to step into a major role for a successful passing offense next season. Combined, they have a grand total of zero career catches in the NFL.
Cotchery isn't going to completely solve Carolina's receiving problem. He's more of a slot option that can find ways to get open in the red zone, as illustrated by his high touchdown output last season. He isn't a No. 1 receiver.
That's the role he would currently fill, though, as Ben Volk of 30YardLine.com points out:
Jerricho Cotchery is finalizing a deal that would presumably make him the No. 1 receiver in Carolina. He'll be 32 years old this summer.— Ben Volk (@NFLBen) March 20, 2014
It's a step in the right direction for the Panthers, but there's still plenty of work left to do. At the absolute least, they need to acquire another receiver through the draft, free agency or trade that can step right into the starting lineup.
In that scenario, the other acquisition and Cotchery could start with the team hoping one of the other young receivers on the roster steps up successfully into a larger role. Anything less than that and it's hard to imagine Newton having much success through the air next season.
Cotchery is a solid start in rebuilding the receiving corps, but the Panthers can't stop there.