You remember that season, of course. It was after the Jets' second straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game. There was Rex Ryan's Super Bowl guarantee. The lockout summer. The crazy free-agent period. The monster contract for Santonio Holmes. The addition of Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. It was Super Bowl or bust.
Not only did they bust, but the Jets turned into a hot, dysfunctional mess, ripped apart by dissension. Cotchery sensed the vibe in training camp, requested a trade or release and, four years later, finds himself playing for the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
"It wasn't about being disrespected. It wasn't about them signing other guys," Cotchery said this week at the Super Bowl, according to the New York Daily News. "I was taught the game was about the team. You enjoy lining up with guys. It wasn't about individuals. It was truly about the team and guys being selfless and happy for the next individual. Things started to change a little bit. I didn't think that was what I signed up for when I was younger. So it's time to move on."
It took a lot of guts to leave a team that was one game from the Super Bowl, but Cotchery is a man of principle.
"My time with the Jets I will always cherish and was just wonderful," he said. "I spent seven years there. My time had run its course."
Cotchery called it "a sad time in my life," but he signed with a solid organization, the Pittsburgh Steelers. He stayed for three years before going to Carolina, the ideal place to finish his career. It's where it began -- NC State.
He's one of two former Jets in the Super Bowl. The other is Denver Broncos backup safety Josh Bush, a 2012 draft pick who played in 35 games as a special teamer. Wide receiver Stephen Hill, a colossal draft bust whose immaturity on and off the field still makes people at One Jets Drive shake their head, is on the Panthers' injured-reserve list.
The mere mention of Hill's name brings up bad memories for Jets' fans. Not so with Cotchery, a popular player among fans and teammates. He was a fourth-round pick in 2004, making him the oldest-drafted Jet still in the league. As a young pup, he received some advice from Curtis Martin, and it has served him well for 12 years.
"Curtis Martin mentioned it my rookie year that the best investment you can make as a football player is to invest in yourself," Cotchery, 33, said. "Whether that's taking care of your body and preparing the right way to be at your best on Sunday, that's the best investment you can make."