While the Steelers have not been big spenders in Free Agency this offseason (as if they have ever been), there are a couple of guys on their radars which they will likely have to make a decision or two on in the coming weeks. Slot WR Jerricho Cotchery is still on the open market and apparently wants to come back and suit up for the Black & Gold long-term, and according to Pat Kirwin of CBS.Sportsline the Steelers are willing to bring him back. At this point in Free Agency however, Cotchery has garnered interest from Kansas City and St. Louis and the demand/rate for his services could have been driven up as of late. Thus, Cotchery could be headed elsewhere if he indeed wants a long-term deal at a higher price than what cash-strapped Pittsburgh may be willing to offer.
As for the other potential Free Agent signee, Buffalo appears to be ready to let their starting Left Tackle Demetrius Bell walk and the Steelers appear to at least be interested. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Bell came to the Steel City yesterday for a meeting with the team. While the Steelers do not have the budget of others interested in Bell’s services (Arizona, Washington, Green Bay, and most recently Philadelphia), they do have a need at Tackle and could sure use a player like him in 2012 to man the Left and/or Right Tackle position.
So what should the Steelers do in the coming weeks with Cotchery and Bell? Read on to hear my thoughts on the matter:
Case for Cotchery
I’ve been a proponent of bringing Jerricho Cotchery back since the season ended in January, and now my stance is as strong as ever on the matter. When Cotchery was healthy after coming off of a hamstring injury, he turned in some solid play for Pittsburgh late in the season and finished the year with a stat line of 16 Catches for 237 Yards and 2 TD’s in 13 games. Granted, Cotchery is now more useful as a #3 guy for a team like the Steelers so his raw statistical production will likely never be what it was when he was with the Jets. Nevertheless, Cotchery is a savvy veteran with above average hands that understands how to work the middle of the field and pick up First Downs when he is needed. Helping Cotchery’s present value to the Steelers is the fact that Hines Ward is retired, and Emmanuel Sanders never seemed to be at 100% last season and has struggled with knee and foot injuries throughout his short career.
Providing Ben with a reliable underneath target from the Slot WR position will be huge for the Steelers next season under new O.C. Todd Haley. With Wallace (in a contract season) and Brown (emerging as the new #1) drawing the bulk of the opposition’s attention during passing downs, Heath Miller and Sanders/Cotchery will likely be given plenty of real-estate to eat teams alive underneath and/or provide adequate safety valves for Big Ben in case his protection breaks down and he needs to get rid of the ball.
While the Steelers do not have an over-abundance of funds to sign Cotchery to a lucrative long-term deal, they should at least consider keeping him in the present/near future. Wallace will be a UFA in 2013 until further notice and will inevitably bolt for the money next offseason if the rumors are true that he wants to be “Oprah-Megatron-Fitzgerald Rich,” Brown will be a RFA next offseason as well and could garner significant interest from teams with a stellar 2012 campaign, and Sanders, while effective when healthy over his career, has yet to show he can stay that way over a 16 game marathon.
Pittsburgh will likely have to rely on the fact that they can give Cotchery the best chance to win at this point in his career when compared to the other two franchises which have shown interest in him (Kansas City and St. Louis), and the fact that he will be given a chance to play a fair amount on a winning team with a QB of Big Ben’s caliber. At almost 30, Cotchery still has a decent amount of solid football left in him, and he could really help the Steelers over the next couple of seasons while they sort out their somewhat murky situation at WR that has begun to emerge in the last few moths.
Case for Bell
While the Steelers do not appear to have an enormous need at Tackle like they do at the Guard spot, help is still needed and the acquisition of depth is of the utmost importance for this team. In fact, signing a player like Demetrius Bell would do this team plenty of good if he can be acquired at the right price.
With Max Starks coming off of a knee injury and Willie Colon coming off of a triceps injury, Pittsburgh has only 2nd year man Marcus Gilbert entering Training Camp with a somewhat decent bill of health that also has starting potential. Jonathan Scott can definitely be upgraded as a reserve and his roster spot could be used on another Tackle or depth at another spot, and it would not hurt Gilbert and Colon (or even Starks if he returns) to face some competition for their jobs this August.
Bell’s recent injury history is a bit of a concern (missed 9 games last season due to shoulder and knee injuries and 8 in 2009 due to knee injury), but you know what? So is Colon’s. If Colon ends up going down yet again this season with an injury, Pittsburgh could really benefit from having a guy like Bell on the roster to step in at Left Tackle, and a versatile player like Gilbert sliding back over to the Right again. Colon has played in a grand total of 1 GAME since January of 2010, and has been rehabbing injuries to his Achilles and his Triceps for most of the two years in between. Sure, Colon is in the middle of a $29 million dollar contract, and it should be in the Steelers’ best interest to see how he performs this season if he can stay healthy. Yet if Colon is unable to lace them up on Sunday’s as a Tackle, there’s gotta be at least some depth behind him to shoulder the load and give Pittsburgh some steady play off the bench.
Bell signing with Pittsburgh will be likely contingent on the following factors: A) if Bell is allowed to compete for a starting job at Left Tackle, B) his relationship with Offensive Line Coach Sean Kugler, and C) the Steelers opinion about the long-term health of Willie Colon and their desire to see Gilbert log more time at Right Tackle in the present. Pittsburgh cannot and will not break the bank for any Free Agent, and Bell will probably have to pass on some more lucrative offers from losing teams that have cap space if he chooses to sign with the Steelers. Warding off Philly, who just lost Jason Peters and will likely have an open-door for Bell to win the starting LT spot without competition will be of the utmost importance. Pittsburgh can likely convince Bell to come over the other teams which are interested in him like Arizona and Washington because of the “win-now” and Kugler factors. But with Bell going to Philly this weekend, a place which will likely offer him a big deal and is in more need of Tackle help than Pittsburgh, the Steelers will have to hope that he turns them down as well as Green Bay if they both indeed want him.
It would be nice for the Steelers to have a shot at signing both guys, but because of the salary cap constraints, Pittsburgh can barely afford to sign one guy. In my honest opinion, the Steelers have a better chance at signing Cotchery than they do at signing Bell at this point in the Free Agency process. The going rate for a #3 WR is significantly less than a Left Tackle (albeit one with an injury history) that is in his mid-20′s and has 30 games of starting experience under his belt. Furthermore, Cotchery is liable to improve in 2012 statistically because he should receive more opportunities to catch the ball now that Ward is gone and in the event that Sanders cannot stay healthy. Still, Cotchery could find it to be more financially attractive to play elsewhere like Kansas City or St. Louis, and Pittsburgh would need to find another pair of hands to help out at WR during the next couple of seasons.
As for finding Tackle depth not named Bell, I can see Pittsburgh more willing to take a Tackle or a Guard/Tackle like Cordy Glenn of Georgia, Ryan Miller of Colorado, or Kelechi Osemele of Iowa State in the Draft next month. All three will likely carry a less hefty price tag in the present than Bell, and both do not have the same recent injury history (shoulder and knee in 2011) as him to boot.
If the Steelers stand pat and let Cotchery walk and Bell go elsewhere I will not be distraught though. Few G.M.’s have the proven track record of success in Free Agency with regards to spending money effectively like Kevin Colbert has over the last decade, so I trust his and the rest of the Front Office’s handling of the matters at hand. The next couple of weeks should be interesting now, and we might even see the Steelers make one of these moves.
What are your thoughts readers? Yea or Nay on Cotchery? Yea of Nay on Bell? Or let Cotchery walk and Bell go elsewhere?
Let me know