Steelers' wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery has experienced free agency in two different manners, first becoming a free agent in August, 2011, after he was released by the New York Jets after seven seasons. Cotchery knew at that point he had to make a quick decision about his future, as NFL training camps were already underway and rosters were starting to be formulated.
Cotchery visited two teams, the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, that summer and after meeting with Coach Mike Tomlin knew the Steelers was where he wanted to be.
He only signed a one-year deal in 2011, so when the season came to an end he was right back where he started the year – a free agent. This time, though, two things were on his side – time and the Steelers wanting to re-sign him. Cotchery took a look at what was out there, but in his heart he knew he didn't want to leave Pittsburgh.
As free agency is set to begin on Tuesday, Cotchery shared his story of what free agency was like for him.
Free agency is kind of a weird thing. It's exciting, but you are also thinking how many or if any teams want you to be a part of what they have.
When I first became a free agent after being released by the Jets, at that point I felt like being training camp time teams want people in camp. That was an opportunity for an experienced player to come to a team. I knew an opportunity would exist to play somewhere else. I just wanted to be with a good organization that had a chance to compete for a Super Bowl.
At first I let my agent know what I was looking for organization and team wise. I started thinking about those things right away. I only visited two teams, the Steelers and the Ravens. The Ravens wanted to schedule a visit before I took the visit to Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh scheduled a visit first. Once I got to Pittsburgh they made a great impression regarding the organization. I already knew the history and tradition, and a lot of that was confirmed when I went there. Being able to talk to Coach Tomlin was a big factor in my decision. Also, as a receiver you want to know who is throwing you the ball and Ben (Roethlisberger) was a big factor in that. After I met Coach Tomlin I was blown away. I took the visit to the Ravens, but I kept coming back to that. I wanted to play for Coach Tomlin.
I talked to my wife and told her what I was thinking and she told me what she was thinking and I went from there and signed with the Steelers.
Being a free agent last year was very different. Once the free agent period hits you have an opportunity to discuss your situation. The situation when I got released in training camp from the Jets happened so fast. But in the regular free agent period it's a lot slower and you have time to think about your decision and how you want to move forward.
I visited Kansas City and St. Louis. St. Louis had my former offensive coordinator from the Jets, Brian Schottenheimer. The offensive coordinator at the time in Kansas City was someone who also worked on the Jets staff. I was familiar with both of those guys. They gave me a call and I wanted to go and see what they had to offer.
The teams want to let you know what they are like as far as the organization, coaching staff and players. If it's a team that is in the running and always competing, it's throwing that out on the table because everyone wants to be a part of it. They let you know how they do things and how you could fit in with what they are doing.
It's a lot of recruiting, especially those first couple of days when free agency hits. People want you to visit and come check them out. It was like that coming out of high school with recruiting coordinators trying to get you on campus. You get that same feel a little bit, if we get him here on a visit he will fall in love with it.
It's pretty similar with each team you go to. If you have a visit with a team they can see you as a part of the program before they meet you. When they meet you they can confirm that or go in a different direction. They let the players know what the organization is about, and how they see you fit in the scheme, locker room and community.
Despite the visits, leaving Pittsburgh would have been hard for many reasons. I had finished my eighth year in the NFL, and you have a family in place and I had three kids and the thought of moving across the country wasn't appealing to me.
Plus, I love it in Pittsburgh. It's tough once you experience Pittsburgh. I already had in my mind it was going to take a lot for me to leave Pittsburgh. You can't say that in negotiations, but that is what I had in my head. I wanted to come back. It would have had to be an incredible opportunity to move on from Pittsburgh.
I just wanted to stay in Pittsburgh. It was an unbelievable experience for me my first year. Once you really get a taste of the organization and the city, it's something that is tough to leave. Once the organization let me know they wanted me back I did everything in my power to get it done.
Free agency has been really positive for me. It's fun. I don't want to take that part out of it, getting to make the visits, meet different coaches and have teams interested in you. Naturally that is exciting. Plus you learn a lot from visiting coaches, especially if you have aspirations of being a coach. You learn how they do things and how they operate as far as winning traditions or even when things aren't going well. You learn a lot in free agency.