PITTSBURGH -- Jerricho Cotchery is in the midst of one of his more enjoyable NFL seasons, and not just because he leads the Steelers with six touchdown catches and is an integral part of the passing game.
Cotchery has also embraced the role of mentoring younger Steelers wideouts, especially rookie Markus Wheaton.
"I've just thought about, 'Hey, this is the last year of my contract. Maximize your time with the guys that are around you because you never know if you're going to see those same guys again.'" Cotchery said.
The Steelers are going to have a lot of moving parts this offseason, and tough decisions loom about which veterans to keep and which of their own free agents they should try to re-sign while managing the salary cap.
If the price is right for both sides, the Steelers should do everything they can to bring Cotchery back.
The 10-year veteran is still playing at a high level -- he has already tied his career-high for touchdown catches in a season -- and his game isn't predicated on speed as much as it is knowing how to work the middle of the field and get open.
Professional is one of the first words that come to mind when it comes to Cotchery, who is also the kind of guy you want to have in your locker room.
"He keeps his head down and goes to work every day," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "You trust him. You know where he's going to be, what he's going to do and he makes plays for us and I'm proud to call him a teammate."
Cotchery, 31, could become even more important if Emmauel Sanders tests free agency and scores the kind of contract that the Steelers are either unwilling or unable to match because of the cap.
Cotchery was noncommittal about his future in Pittsburgh when I talked to him about it recently. But the player known as "J Co" to his teammates did not give any indication that he is contemplating retirement.
"I want to win a championship," Cotchery said, "and everybody around me knows that. That's my goal so we'll see if we can get that accomplished before I ride off."
Cotchery is realistic that retirement will come soon enough, and 10 seasons into a solid career that started with the Jets he sometimes finds himself wondering where all of the time went.
"It goes by fast. I tell guys to cherish every moment of it, especially the relationships you build in the locker room," Cotchery said. "There's so many different personalities, different backgrounds but you come together as one, pursuing a goal and you become so close. Outside of a locker room it's so hard to get that."