The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: How many years of starter-worthy play does Joe Haden have left in the tank?
It’s fair to say that the Steelers’ signing of Joe Haden about a year and a half ago was a huge move that did much to reshape their secondary. While he has not necessarily elevated himself back to the Pro Bowl level that he saw early in his career, he has been the team’s best player in the secondary and has had success winning against their opponents’ top wide receivers.
He hasn’t looked great in every game he’s played in, however, not that anybody does. Emmanuel Sanders got the better of him multiple times when Pittsburgh played the Denver Broncos last year, for example, and he committed the critical pass interference penalty on fourth down late in the loss to the New Orleans Saints that led to the game-winning points a short time later.
Haden, who will turn 30 tomorrow, is entering the final year of a three-year, $27 million contract. It’s likely that he will be regarded as a candidate for a contract extension later this summer, probably once training camp opens.
But the real question is this: how many really good years does Haden have left? How much longer can they depend upon him to lock down one side of the field as he enters his 30s? And this question presumes that he continues to be with the Steelers beyond 2019, which is not a certainty just yet, though it’s likely provided that his play justifies it.
The team just signed Steven Nelson to man the opposite outside cornerback spot. The other cornerbacks of prominence on the roster are Mike Hilton—their starter in the slot—Cameron Sutton, and Brian Allen.
Given that the team has been bringing in or paying attention to some first-round cornerbacks, I’m not so sure the Steelers believe strongly in the long-term viability of their current group at the position. Of course, Nelson’s capability to play inside is also a part of that conversation.