In 2017, after seven seasons and two Pro Bowls with the team, the Cleveland Browns released top cornerback Joe Haden. One day later, Haden signed a three-year contract to join AFC North rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, and has since gone on to another Pro Bowl and has played in his winningest seasons as a professional over his four years with the franchise thus far.
Via a trade made last Thursday with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Pittsburgh Steelers acquired another Joe, inside linebacker Joe Schobert. And Schobert and Haden share more than just a first name: Both were August acquisitions by the Steelers, both spent the majority of their careers with the Browns before arriving in Pittsburgh, and each earned a Pro Bowl nomination despite playing for struggling Browns teams.
Speaking with the Pat McAfee show Friday, Haden said he had some words to deliver to Schobert, his former teammate in Cleveland in 2016, after Schobert joined him with the Steelers, and those thoughts were about the difference between playing for the two franchises.
“When he came here, I just told him he’s a smart football player. And the one thing about it is, once you learn this game here [in Pittsburgh], I’ve been in this game now for five years, so you’re able to really just start wondering what the offense is doing. You’re not worried about the plays that’s called. Once the play is called, you’re figuring out, you’re just so many steps ahead when you’re not learning a new system, you’re not learning a new scheme. The terminology is the same,” Haden said.
“So I told Joe, ‘Listen. Once you get this terminology down, it’s about going aware, so you’re going to be able to be a great player, like you can play fast.’ He’s such a smart player, so I think he’s going to be able to, he can tell already that it’s just a different vibe.”
Though the Browns have since appeared to turn the corner and are viewed as an AFC favorite coming off an 11-5 season (beating the Steelers in the Wild Card round), they were marred in a two-decade run of futility during the tenure of both Joes. Neither experienced a winning season there, with Haden winning 29 games across his seven seasons, and Schobert winning 14 across his four, including a winless year in 2017.
That contrasts with Haden’s experience in Pittsburgh, where he has experienced 42 wins in four years and never had a losing season. Haden views that as one improvement in going from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, and in a similar vein thinks the biggest advantage that the Steelers have over the Browns is one word: Consistency. Not just in winning seasons, but in coaching.
Haden has played for only Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler as his head coach and defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. In his seven years with the Browns, he played for five different head coaches and four different coordinators.
“It’s been amazing, you know, because being in Cleveland at the time that I was there, it was just a big whirlwind of coaching chance and everybody just trying to say, ‘No, you know when a new coach comes in, it was the old atmosphere,’ you know what I’m saying, and wanting to switch everything up,” Haden said. “But just being in Pittsburgh, having that consistency, having that word, him [Tomlin] having those phrases that he doesn’t move by. And it’s just really, really good having a coach like coach T. He’s very relatable. He keeps it very, very black and white.”
“The tape doesn’t lie, and he’s able to just judge you on that. And I appreciate him because just having that and having a real, just a man, a leader of men, I think he’s just a leader of men, and it’s great to have him,” Haden continued, of Tomlin.
Haden has experienced considerable success during his tenure in Pittsburgh. He believes the consistency of the organization will allow Schobert to enjoy the same.