From the Panthers' locker room, Cotchery had a minute to reflect on his time with Pittsburgh. Cotchery had a chance to stay with the Steelers, who made a competitive free-agent offer after his 602 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
The NC State alum and native of Birmingham, Alabama, chose to return to the South, where his wife is also from.
Things worked out for both parties. Cotchery became one of Cam Newton's most reliable options in the passing game. The Steelers got younger at receiver with Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant complementing cornerstone Antonio Brown.
But leaving wasn't easy, because the Steelers offense was starting to cook. Eight of Cotchery's 10 touchdowns that season came in the final nine games.
"The last half of that year is when [Pittsburgh] started really getting comfortable with the offense they run now," Cotchery said. "They've got a good thing going offensively. They are going to continue to get better."
The Steelers finished 8-8 that season, but they've won 21 games and made two playoff appearances since.
As ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini pointed out, Cotchery's value transcends catches and yards. He's great for locker-room chemistry. The Jets should have kept him. Since 2011, he's produced nearly 170 catches for 2,100-plus yards and 16 scores.
Pittsburgh gladly picked him up, and he validated that faith with a big year. But Carolina came calling.
"This was the place where it was going to be hard to say no," said Cotchery about Carolina.