Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers turn free agency focus to replenishing receivers

For all the receivers who left the Carolina Panthers organization in recent days, it was only a matter of time before general manager Dave Gettleman started trying to re-stock the inventory.

That process will begin in earnest Monday.

Pittsburgh Steelers free agent Jerricho Cotchery is in Charlotte to visit the Panthers on Monday, a league source said Sunday.

The Panthers also have had preliminary conversations with Green Bay Packers wideout James Jones after the free agent made a public pitch to Carolina on Sunday.

“I would love the opportunity to play for the Carolina Panthers,” Jones told ESPN’s Josina Anderson. “I would love to play with Cam (Newton).”

The Panthers cut franchise receiving leader Steve Smith last week in a move met with much criticism among their fan base. No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell (New England), deep-threat Ted Ginn Jr. (Arizona) and Domenik Hixon (Chicago) left via free agency.

The Panthers also missed out on ex-New York Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks when he signed with Indianapolis, although it’s unclear how interested the Panthers were in the former Independence High and North Carolina star.

Signing Cotchery and/or Jones, and going after a wideout in a receiver-rich draft, would ease some of the sting for Panthers fans and give Newton a new nucleus of targets.

Cotchery, 31, caught 46 passes for 602 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns last season. He was a fourth-round pick of the Jets in 2004, and spent seven years in New York before going to Pittsburgh before the 2011 season.

Cotchery, 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, signed a two-year, $3 million deal in 2012 with the Steelers, who lost receiver Emmanuel Sanders to Denver in free agency Saturday.

Cotchery played at N.C. State in 2000-03 and was a two-time All-ACC player.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Cotchery’s free agency was on hold until he returned from a Steelers fan cruise. Pittsburgh has had preliminary talks with Cotchery, who has drawn interest from two other teams, according to the Tribune-Review.

Jones, who will turn 30 this month, is coming off the two best seasons of his seven-year career.

He led the league with 14 touchdown catches in 2012, the only time he’s started 16 games in his career. Despite missing two games last season with a knee injury, Jones finished with 59 catches for 817 yards – a yard more than tight end Greg Olsen’s team-leading total for the Panthers.

The Jets were linked to Jones last week, but the interest seems to be lukewarm for a receiver with good size (6-1, 208) and above-average speed.

Cotchery and Jones have worn No. 89 for most of their careers, a jersey number that’s now available in Carolina.