With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are 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).
Topic Statement: Joe Haden will sit out if he can’t land a starting opportunity in free agency.
Explanation: A former top-10 pick, Joe Haden has never not been ‘the guy’ in the secondary, whether in Cleveland or Pittsburgh. He has spent large portions of his career shadowing teams’ number one receivers. While he’s soon to be 33, and still believes he’s a starter, he could be reluctant to sign a contract that sees him ticketed for a potential depth role—without going so far as to retire, but rather to remain available in case an opportunity arises over the course of the year.
The thing that sticks out at me is the comments that Haden made in training camp last year when he was asked about the uncertainty around roles in the secondary, given the starters they lost that offseason.
“I want to play until I can’t play. I want to continue to be a No. 1 corner”, he said in August. “Once I feel like I can look at myself on tape and the coach says he doesn’t know if I can start in the NFL anymore on the outside, I am not really a change-position-to-safety kind of guy or going into the nickel. Once I am done as a CB1, at worst a CB2 if there is another good starter like me and Cam [Sutton] right now — once I can’t become an outside starting guy is when it is my time”.
Whether or not he sees himself like that and whether or not an NFL team sees him like that are both key factors. It’s hard to see him agreeing to a deal where there isn’t at least an obvious path toward playing time, even if it’s as an outside corner in a nickel defense. In fact, this may be why he hasn’t signed anywhere yet.
Players say a lot of things when they can afford to. Eric Weddle said a few years ago that he would retire if the Ravens parted ways with him. When they did, he had a change of heart and signed with the Rams. When facing the prospect of your career being over, you’re willing to make compromises.
Thus far, there has been complete dead air, at least as far as the public knows, on the free agency front for Joe Haden, he of 148 career starts—possibly the most experienced cornerback in the NFL right now. The only hint he’s seemed to give is an indication that the Steelers don’t intend to re-sign him, and given that they re-signed Ahkello Witherspoon and added Levi Wallace, that…seems correct.