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: 2021 will be Joe Haden’s final season, at least in Pittsburgh.
Explanation: A 2010 first-round draft pick, Haden is now at a point in his career during which many of the top players from that class are retiring of their own volition. Maurkice Pouncey was one, yet Tyson Alualu, also on the roster, remains, and Antonio Brown is still going. Cornerback has a shorter shelf life than most positions, however, and he is now 32 as he enters the final year of his contract.
How many cornerbacks have the Steelers had who have been able to play well, on the outside, at the age of 33? William Gay didn’t even make it to 33, and he was playing inside. It’s basically Mel Blount and that’s it. Now, Joe Haden is certainly in the upper echelon of Steelers cornerbacks, but there comes a time for everybody.
And the team is clearly, slowly but surely, in transition. They have big contracts due for T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. They already have Cameron Sutton lined up for a long-term role, and they’re hoping James Pierre can be another starter, so they’re preparing for what’s to come.
The thing is, Haden isn’t going to play at a discount if he’s playing at a starter level. His last extension added $11 million per season in new money. His cap hit is nearly $16 million this year. They need cheaper options, and it’s best to move on before his play falls off a cliff.
Even though he spent seven years in Cleveland, Haden very much feels like a Steeler, the sort of player you know they’re going to treat well if at all possible. The salary cap should return to normal after this season, so we shouldn’t have another situation like this year where you have some surprise departures of long-term names.
Pittsburgh has had a very hard time with the cornerback position. Their last two starters were outside free agents. Sutton isn’t even proven yet as a starter, even in the slot, on a full-time basis. Pierre remains a complete unknown. If Haden plays well this year, and it’s not clear that there are alternatives, you have to bring him back.