By Cian Fahey
With Mike Wallace still not certain to be on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, the team enters the NFL draft with a need for depth on the outside despite the re-signing of Jerricho Cotchery.
Bringing back Cotchery, to play the Hines Ward role, as a veteran leader for quite a young group of receivers was a very astute move by Kevin Colbert in an off-season filled with prudent moves by the Steelers\’ front office as a whole.
Once Omar Khan worked his magic to bring the team below the salary cap limit, the Steelers approached free agency as they usually did tendering all of their restricted free agents but one before bringing back Charlie Batch, adding tight end Leonard Pope and re-signing Cotchery for very little expense.
Each move makes sense beyond just filling an open slot on the depth chart. Batch\’s intelligence and experience is massive for the roster off-the-field. Pope is familiar with offensive coordinator Todd Haley from his time in Arizona while I\’ve already pointed out Cotchery\’s veteran value.
With Cotchery on the roster, the Steelers currently have four receivers carrying over from last season\’s roster. Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Wallace and Cotchery. Of the group, only Brown and Cotchery can realistically be called reliable receivers.
No doubt Wallace and Sanders are not just reliable but overwhelmingly talented when fully healthy and available, but neither Sanders\’ health or Wallace\’s commitment is guaranteed this year. For this reason, the Steelers would be smart to snap up Jabar Gaffney from the Washington Redskins.
Gaffney is not a free agent but he is reportedly available after a rant on his twitter account got him in trouble with the organization last week. The Redskins are trying to shop the receiver and told him not to report to the facility this week. Generally, when you tell a player not to report, that signals that you have no interest in retaining him regardless of whether you can trade him or not.
Gaffney won\’t be a hot property on the open market in a trade, but would be a highly sought after free agent at this point in the off-season. You can expect that some team would be willing to give up a seventh round draft pick for Gaffney, while one of the more intelligent organizations, who are also already familiar with the receiver\’s talents, the New England Patriots could be willing to give up even more for him.
As a starting receiver, Gaffney is a reliable but underwhelming option. As a fifth or fourth choice receiver on a team with plenty of talent ahead of him, Gaffney could be this season\’s Cotchery.
If Sanders and Wallace are unavailable, then Gaffney would be give the Steelers a capable third receiver who could play outside if necessary. The Steelers\’ third receiver this year will be more important than it ever previously was as offensive coordinator Haley loves to use three receivers as he proved both in Kansas City and Arizona.
While Gaffney may not be Steve Breaston or…well…Steve Breaston, he would be more than just another guy buried on the depth chart. Not every sixth round pick turns into Brown and if the Steelers could add Gaffney for that choice, they should definitely consider it.
Like Colbert\’s other three additions this off-season, Gaffney brings more to the table than just another target for Ben Roethlisberger on the field. Just like Cotchery, he gives the team another veteran at the position to help Brown, Sanders and Wallace. In particular, Wallace should benefit from Gaffney\’s arrival. Gaffney doesn\’t have anywhere near the physical skills of Wallace, but he is an outstanding route runner.
While the Steelers obviously have very good coaches who are still developing Wallace\’s route running, the receiver is still relying too much on his speed to get by opposed to defining his ability to lose defenders with sharp cuts or faints. Having a receiver on the field who understands exactly what Wallace is aspiring to do will help him progress further as an all-around receiver.
Gaffney, despite finishing last season with just under 1,000 yards, is one of those names who most fans roll their eyes at when he is linked with their team. Those players tend to be the type that the Steelers go out and sign.
Colbert and Mike Tomlin could continue an off-season of astute additions by making a move for Gaffney. This team cannot have enough pieces in the passing game with their running back situation being quite vague entering the season…to be positive about it.
You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf