It may not feel like it, but Joe Haden was actually still just 28 years old when the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him for the 2017 season in August, even though that was to be his eighth season in the league. Obviously, he came into the league young. Now in his fourth season with the team, and 11th since coming into the NFL, he is continuing to play at an efficient level at the cornerback position at the age of 31.
Part of the reason that he has been superficially perceived to be older is because, at the time that the Cleveland Browns released him, Haden had dealt with a series of injuries for a number of years that affected both his performance and his availability, and there were questions as to whether or not he could still play at a high level while staying healthy.
He has obviously answered those questions in the affirmative, and it has had to do with a lot of factors. He did make efforts to be more on top of his physical health. He even talked, back in 2017, about working with a stride coach to improve his gait when he walked. The bottom line? He still feels pretty damn good.
That’s what he told Bud Dupree on his new show on the team’s website, Bud Brought a Buddy. “Body-wise, I feel young”, he told his defensive teammate, when asked about if he feels like an old head now in his 11th year in the league.
“Mentally, I feel like I’m maturing, but just being in the league 11 years now, having dudes like Justin Layne coming in, just having young DBs that are just hungry, telling me they were watching my highlight tape while I was at Florida when they were in middle school, it makes you feel a little older”, he went on. “But just hanging out with them, being out there on the field, I feel like it’s just a bunch of dudes that are just trying to get better”.
Haden is the old dog in the secondary. Especially at safety, you have a couple of third-year players back there, and in the slot is Mike Hilton, who is in his fourth season. Even Steven Nelson is relatively young, now only in year six after signing with the Steelers in free agency last year.
Overall, he is up there with Maurkice Pouncey and Cameron Heyward as the fourth-oldest players on the team, behind, in order, Ben Roethlisberger, Tyson Alualu, and Alejandro Villanueva. But all of them are continuing to play at a high level. At least so far, age hasn’t caught up with them. And that’s increasingly become the case around the league, with players playing deeper into their careers before dropping off.