ORLANDO, Fla. — Hours after the NFL adopted a new kickoff rule, the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to a two-year, $6 million contract with versatile return man Cordarrelle Patterson, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

After a historically low rate of kickoff returns in the 2023 season, the amended rules are expected to emphasize the return game, making Patterson’s role a crucial one.

Patterson, who played under now-Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith with the Atlanta Falcons, has nine career kick return touchdowns since entering the NFL in 2013 to make him the NFL’s all-time leader in the category. He has three times as many kick return touchdowns as any other player in that timespan, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Steelers last scored a touchdown on a kick return when JuJu Smith-Schuster took one 96 yards to the end zone against the Cleveland Browns in 2017. The team has struggled to find a consistent return man, using a combination of players in the 2023 season that included former practice squad addition Godwin Igwebuike and running back Anthony McFarland.

Patterson saw a reduced role with the Falcons in 2023, partly due to added personnel and the NFL’s previous changes in the kickoff rule, which made touchbacks more prevalent. He set career lows in returns (7), return yardage (153) and yards per return (21.9) last season.

On offense, where he had found the biggest opportunities of his career starting at age 30, he had 50 carries for 181 yards — his lowest totals since 2019 — and nine catches for 38 yards and a touchdown, his worst numbers since 2015, his third year in the league.

Patterson, 33, became a hybrid running back/receiver with the Falcons, often lining up throughout Smith’s offensive formations, producing a career-best season with 1,166 yards from scrimmage (618 yards rushing, 548 yards receiving) in 2020.

He was picked No. 29 overall in the 2013 draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Since then, he has played in 170 games (60 starts) and has 514 carries for 2,511 yards and 22 touchdowns along with 298 catches for 2,795 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has also played for the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders.

In addition to his record, Patterson is No. 17 all-time in kick return attempts (273), ninth in yardage (7,989) and third in kick return average at 29.3, behind Gale Sayers (30.6 from 1965-71) and Lynn Chandnois (29.6 from 1950-56).

ESPN’s Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.


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