Not to choose 89 shows Cotchery has class

I can't say how many passes wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery will catch for the Carolina Panthers this season, but I can say he has class and he won't be a distraction to the locker room.

Why? He chose not to wear No. 89.

Out of respect to Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver who was released last week, Cotchery wouldn't consider wearing the number he wore at Pittsburgh with his new team.

Not that the topic, according to Cotchery, came up in negotiations. And if it had, management might have told the 31-year-old to pick another number.

But that wouldn't have been necessary because Cotchery never would have asked.

"I definitely won't touch that one," Cotchery said on Thursday after signing a two-year deal. "Steve is a guy ... he's one of my favorite players. Not just [among] receivers. He competes every Sunday. It's been fun to watch him play. He's been the face around here a long time. I definitely wouldn't think about touching that number."

Cotchery also handled with class questions about coming to a Carolina team without any proven receivers.

"First and foremost as a receiver, you look at the quarterback position," he said. "I left Ben Roethlisberger. If you're going to leave a quarterback like that you better be sure that you're going to go to someone that can play at a high level.

"I feel we have that here with Cam Newton."

Hear that Brandon LaFell? Kidding.

Many of you were upset on Wednesday when Carolina's former No. 2 receiver, LaFell, said he signed with New England for the chance to play with a Hall of Fame quarterback. You took that as a slight against Newton, so much that LaFell vowed to take a month off from Twitter.

I didn't take it that way. And I don't take Cotchery's comment as to suggest Newton literally has reached the level of achievement of Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion.

But Newton is a lot more Roethlisberger than he is Brady, and Cotchery immediately set the tone that he has confidence in his new quarterback.

Cotchery could be just as helpful in the development of Newton as he is expected to be with a young receiving corps. There is no risk that he will become a distraction as some believe Smith might have been.

He hasn't caught a pass here yet.

But he's shown a lot of class.