Player: Joe Haden
Experience: 12 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2021 Salary Cap Hit: $15,575,000
2021 Season Breakdown:
Joe Haden had the worst ‘healthy’ season of his career in terms of getting his hands on balls. For only the second time in any season in which he played more than five games over his 12-year career, he did not intercept a pass for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021, in 12 games played. He also had just six passes defensed, the lowest he has ever had, short of a five-game season he was limited to in 2015 due to injury.
But as you might guess, it would be inaccurate to judge the quality of a defensive back purely on his number of passes defensed. One thing you have the look at is targets, and his target percentage was down a bit. At the same time, his completion percentage allowed was up, though he did not allow a disproportionate amount of damage.
Haden had a significant Lisfranc foot injury in the middle of the season that caused him to miss four consecutive games (five weeks including a bye). His playing time varied when he got back, initially to ease him back into the lineup. He was a 100 percent snap player prior to that injury.
Free Agency Outlook:
Haden possesses immense value in the locker room that can’t be factored into a purely performative evaluation. A lot of the conversation about free agency is going to center around a debate between Haden and fellow free agent Ahkello Witherspoon, and almost everybody is probably going to say that they should re-sign Witherspoon over him.
I can’t say definitively that that is the route the Steelers are going to take. Witherspoon performed very admirably down the stretch, and he’s obviously significantly younger, but Haden can still play when he’s healthy, and he brings a lot of intangibles with him, of the sort that were invaluable to other players—like Witherspoon.
I’m sure the team would love to keep Haden’s leadership and energy in the locker room. The question is what price he’s looking for at the age of (soon to be) 33, and what other teams are willing to pay him. He signed two-year extension two years ago that averaged $11 million. I can’t imagine Pittsburgh would be willing to pay that now, especially if they re-sign Witherspoon.
But would anybody else pay him in that range? How important is it to him to remain in Pittsburgh? He’s said in the past that it is, but he’s also talked about looking forward to hitting free agency, something he’s never properly done in his career. Coming off a season with a significant foot injury, it’s not the ideal time, so it will be interesting to see what kind of sniffs he gets on the open market. I have a sense there’s a chance he ends up returning on a somewhat modest two-year deal.