When cornerback Joe Haden faced the Cleveland Browns with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, it was a surreal experience. He had been released by the Browns after seven seasons just 12 days prior to that in a move that was not anticipated, and certainly not necessary. He was scooped up by Cleveland’s division rival just hours later.
He opened up that game in Cleveland but had his struggles as he worked to adjust to a new defense, in a new city, around new teammates—and yet playing in his ‘home’ stadium, only now visiting the other locker room. He actually recorded six tackles, a pass defensed, and a sack in the game.
A year later, he is preparing for yet another season opener in Cleveland, but it feels much different. He told Aditi Kinkhabwala, who covers both teams, that “now it just feels like this is where I belong”, referring to being a member of the Steelers.
Pittsburgh reached a three-year, $27 million contract with Haden on the same day that the Browns released him. Prior to that move, the Steelers were trying to decide who would be their starting left outside cornerback between journeymen Ross Cockrell and Coty Sensabaugh.
They are hoping to field the best secondary this year that they have had in some time, surrounding Haden with Artie Burns, Mike Hilton, and Cameron Sutton at the cornerback position while backed by Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, and veteran Morgan Burnett at safety. There is a package in which all seven are intended to be on the field.
The secondary played very well, at least statistically, for the first half of the 2017 season while Haden was healthy, but the group struggled a lot after he suffered a leg injury that caused him to miss several games. Sensabaugh in particular had a few blown assignments that helped contribute to big plays.
The ability to communicate effectively is going to be critical to the unit’s success this year, and the fact that Haden has actually been able to have a full offseason with the team should only help with that. While he wasn’t responsible for a lot of the defensive miscues a year ago—there were some—it’s important for every member of the defense to be on the same page and knowing what everybody else is supposed to be doing.
A year after his unceremonious departure from Cleveland, he rolls back into town fully integrated into the Steelers Way, having found himself a new home. He is under contract for two more seasons, including this one, but it will be interesting to see how the team approaches his status next summer when he will be due for an extension at the age of 30.