Another in a position-by-position series examining the Steelers' roster in advance of the start of free agency.
(Free Agent Scorecard at the position: 3 unrestricted free agents – Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders)
He turned in one of the most productive seasons in franchise history, and he did it by becoming the first player in NFL history to catch at least five passes for at least 50 yards in all 16 games of a regular season. Brown is a compulsive worker who has to be told when the team's facility will be closed for the day, and he also is that rare big-time receiver who still is a regular as a returner. When the Steelers signed Brown to a long-term extension instead of Mike Wallace, there were questions about their decision. There shouldn't be any now.
His height (6-foot-3) is intriguing, but it wasn't enough to get Brown a roster spot after being the Steelers' first pick in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. There have been players drafted on the sixth round with the surname Brown who have become great players for the Steelers (see, Antonio), but after spending the season on the practice squad it remains to be seen if Justin has enough to get himself a spot on the roster in 2014.
Does the team want him back? Does he have anything left? Burress will be 37 in August, and he's due to become an unrestricted free agent. At the time of his training camp injury last summer, he wasn't a lock to make the final roster.
Signed to a futures contract on Jan. 10. A complete unknown.
A potential unrestricted free agent, Cotchery will be 32 in June and is not a starting caliber player at this stage of his career. That aside, he still is making significant contributions is definitely on the field and as an example of how to be a professional to the up-and-comers on the team. Cotchery gets it. And with a career-high 10 touchdown catches in 2013, he still gets it done.
Spent the year on the practice squad after posting modest preseason statistics as a receiver and returner. He should expect to have to improve upon those to make it out of the preseason again.
Maybe it was because he grew up in Western Pennsylvania and went to Penn State, or maybe it was because he is 6-5, but Moye became something of a favorite among a faction of the media. He finished with two catches, including a touchdown, and was inactive for nine games. He's going to have to be more than just tall in order to have a bigger role in 2014.
Signed to a futures contract in early January, Sampson played his college football at Baylor and spent the majority of 2013 on the Cowboys' practice squad. Prior to that he had been waived by Indianapolis.
The Patriots thought he was worth $2.5 million and a third-round draft pick as a restricted free agent last offseason, and so the assumption is that Sanders will get a lucrative offer as an unrestricted free agent come March. The decision here would seem to come down to economics, as in how much Sanders can claim on the open market vs. how much the Steelers believe is a reasonable amount to spend to keep him.
His rookie season was spoiled by a broken finger that required surgery, and this relegated him to special teams duty primarily. Wheaton has difference-making speed, and should Sanders leave he has to be expected – as a No. 3 pick – to ramp up his contributions to the offense considerably. Because Wheaton was not permitted to take part in the offseason program last year because of Oregon State's graduation date, these next several months will be very important to the goal of advancing Wheaton's development. The Steelers need significant production from him in 2014.