It might not seem like a lot, but locker room real estate is a pretty big deal when it comes to intrateam relations and, dare I say, politics. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, cornerback Joe Haden had hardly gotten to settle in before he started playing. He was kind of a mercenary, even though he’d signed on to a three-year deal.
That has changed this offseason, he said, with big changes making it feel more like a place in which he belongs. A new locker, a new number, a bigger place for his shoes. Haden is claiming not only his territory for his role in the Steelers’ locker room.
23 was Haden’s jersey number when he came into the NFL with the Cleveland Browns in 2010 as a first-round draft pick. It became a part of his identity. “I have the number tatted on me and everything”, he told the team’s website. But that was Mike Mitchell’s number, and he wasn’t about to swap it out just before the seasons started.
While he talked about his relationship with Mitchell, saying he was one of his best friends on the team, Haden didn’t hesitate to reclaim his number once it became available. And when the Steelers said he could take his pick of the available lockers, he went right for James Harrison’s old double deluxe suite, choicely positioned near Antonio Brown.
“I got to pick my space. I am with my guy AB”, he said. “I have a lot of shoes, so they gave me two lockers. It feels comfortable”. It’s all feeling more comfortable, he said, heading into his first full year in his new city. “It feels good. It feels like home now”.
New digs. New real estate. And a new leader on the team. It’s hard to assert yourself much when you’re the new guy, even if you are a veteran in the league, and if the guys know you. But the former Pro Bowl cornerback is quickly becoming a leader within the secondary, and especially so after the bloodshed of the offseason.
The Steelers lopped off their three most veteran defensive backs in one fell swoop early in the offseason, releasing along with Mitchell also Robert Golden and William Gay. No other defensive backs have even spent more than two seasons on the 53-man roster.
With the addition of Morgan Burnett, the secondary now has a nice balance of veteran and youth, paired with the likes of Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Mike Hilton, and Terrell Edmunds. Nat Berhe can also come in and provide some veteran focus.
But make no mistake, the Steelers’ affording of Haden to have his pick of lockers was symbolic of his role on the team, and he took James Harrison’s locker. He may not have left the team on the best of terms, but he was among the most revered players on the team, and he got a locker room fitting with his status. Now it’s 23’s.