The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Joe Haden can play at a starter level at cornerback into his mid-30s.
Explanation: Originally dumped to the curb prior to his age-28 season by the Cleveland Browns, Joe Haden is now heading into his fifth season with the Steelers as their number one cornerback, and will be 32 in 2021. He could potentially receive another extension this year that would push his contract into his age-34 season.
Unless the Steelers figure out how to evaluate cornerbacks, then they had better hope that Haden is capable of continuing to play at at least roughly the level that he has been giving them over the course of the past couple of season for at least a couple more years.
Although he would be the first to admit that he doesn’t have the same straight-line speed that he once had, Haden has shown time and again that his veteran savvy and tape study leave him a strong option for the Steelers in their system.
As long as he continues to take care of his body the way that he has since he has been with the team, I don’t foresee a precipitous drop-off in his play on the immediate horizon. Maybe they’ll start giving him more help over the top against speedy receivers, but he can handle most any assignment.
While Haden overall has been good for the team, by no means has his play been beyond question. The 2019 season was certainly his strongest in some time, though even in that case, it was spiked by individual highlights of interceptions made during key moments off of certain reads.
In terms of cornerback talent, he has looked overmatched on a play-to-play basis more than might be obvious just by looking at his stats. Part of it has to do with the quality of quarterback they have faced. The schedule they have in 2021 may expose him.
And then there’s the simple fact that the cornerback position more than most is vulnerable to that sudden drop-off. While a sudden loss of speed is not as big of a deal for him as it would be to a cornerback for whom that is a major part of his game, there is a reason that many cornerbacks as they age move to safety.