Money, money, money and Haden
What in the world did the Browns not see when they released veteran cornerback Joe Haden Wednesday?
It was obviously something the Pittsburgh Steelers saw when they almost instantaneously signed him to a three-year contract. In a matter of just hours, Haden went from Seal Brown and Orange to Black and Gold.
He went from the basement of the AFC North to the penthouse. He went from seven seasons of abject failure to decades of winning football. Just like that.
Metrics showed Haden’s former All-Pro performance had dipped substantially in the last couple of seasons due mainly to a series of injuries that robbed him of his talents. (Not a big fan of metrics. I trust my eyes much more.)
But those talents supposedly reappeared, according to his coach, in the current training camp and he supposedly looked like “the old Joe Haden.” Hue Jackson heaped praise on the young – he’s only 28 – veteran. And yet, he approved the move. Go figure.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who warned Haden in the spring to be ready for a tough camp, also lauded his performance thus far but nevertheless supposedly sanctioned the move.
So what went wrong? Money, something the Browns are swimming in with regard to the salary cap, proved the great separator. Haden was due to make around $11 million this season.
Too much for a cornerback ostensibly on his way down, they figured. Never mind his performance in training camp. Too much money.
They reportedly asked Haden to take a $4 million pay cut. He reportedly declined. And that, according to reports, is when the Browns began shopping the seven-year veteran.
So riddle me this: If the Browns can afford to swallow the $16 million contract of quarterback Brock Osweiler, who probably will begin the season watching rookie DeShone Kizer, why can’t they digest Haden’s $11 million pact? At least he would be on the field and earn it
The Browns, according to the Web site spotrac, are roughly $57 million under the salary cap. Simple math says it shouldn’t have been a problem. All of a sudden they have become penurious.
The Browns are hurting in the secondary. It is easily the weakest area of the defense. And with Haden’s departure, it becomes much younger. With the exception of eight-year veteran Jason McCourty, this is a relatively inexperienced group in the defensive backfield. That is what makes the latest move so puzzling.
And the Browns almost assuredly had to know that by releasing Haden, many teams, including the Steelers, couldn’t contact Haden’s agent quickly enough to procure his services.
They also had to know the hated Steelers are also hurting in the secondary. Adding Haden to that roster would be a step in the right direction.
It is interesting that the biggest booster of Haden in Pittsburgh was All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who heavily lobbied the front office to change Haden’s working address by 120 miles.
Brown and Haden know each other well. They have an up-close-and-personal professional relationship. They entered the National Football League in the same year (2010) and have met on the field numerous times on an annual basis (many times twice a season) and engaged in classic battles.
Haden’s occasional absences due to injury have made a difference against the Steelers. He missed most of the 2015 season, including both Pittsburgh games, with a concussion. Brown torched the Cleveland secondary with 23 receptions for 326 yards and three touchdowns in those games, a pair of victories.
If anything, this move challenges Williams to be even more creative with his various looks in the secondary. His best cover corner is gone, which probably means more zone coverage in the back end.
Unless the front seven somehow plays well beyond its talents, the Cleveland secondary is certain to be a ripe target for opposing quarterbacks and the annual strafing will continue.
A healthy Joe Haden would have helped.