Joe Haden may not have been here for very long, but already he is in a position to speak with authority on behalf of his teammates, particularly in the secondary. That comes along with being a ninth-year veteran. It comes along with being entitled to the prestige afforded to those who have made the Pro Bowl. It also comes when you team sacks all the other veterans.
The former Cleveland Browns star cornerback was released in late August by the only team he ever knew in the professional realm, but was signed to a three-year deal by the Pittsburgh Steelers before the day was even through. He was the new guy then, but no longer.
The team earlier this offseason released its three longest-tenured defensive backs in William Gay, Mike Mitchell, and Robert Golden. Every defensive back on the roster currently now has had only two years or fewer of accrued experience on the Steelers’ 53-man roster, the longest-tenured being 2016 draft picks Artie Burns and Sean Davis.
Haden recently spoke to the media, and unsurprisingly he was asked a lot of questions that one would expect a leader of a group to receive. He was asked about the team’s decision to part with its three most veteran defensive backs and what was behind that—specifically, if it was a performance issue.
The cornerback stepped up to the plate for his former teammates, saying that rather than talent, the cuts were “business decisions”. Mitchell in particular was in line to make a base salary of $5 million this season, though the cap savings for the others were much more slim.
“It’s how things go. It’s just the way that this league works”, Haden told the gathered reporters. “We’ve got a lot of young guys in the room and I felt like they have a lot of confidence in [them]”. He talked about Burns and Davis, as well as Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton, all of whom are expected to play roles this season.
“It is what it is, [like] the way it happened with me in Cleveland”, he pointed out. “The business of the game, sometimes that affects decisions that happen”. Haden I believe was scheduled to make over $10 million in 2017 for the Browns before they released him, even though they were in no way hurting for cap space.
Haden continued, saying of performance concerns of those released, “I don’t think it really had an impact, how we did. It’s just the business of the game”.
Of course it’s hard to say that performance played no role. If Mitchell’s performance warranted $5 million, he would have been paid it, rather than signing Morgan Burnett and paying him virtually the same amount.
That said, I still am not sure about the releases of the other two. I might have favored Coty Sensabaugh and J.J. Wilcox as release targets. But perhaps the Steelers preferred them as players that they have yet to see everything from.