Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette appears to be convinced of many things that he doesn’t think will happen. One thing, however, that he evidently is not ruling out is the potential for a reunion with veteran cornerback Joe Haden, who is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
A former first-round draft pick and Pro Bowler, Haden first signed with the Steelers in August of 2017 after being released by the Cleveland Browns following seven seasons of play. He spent the next five years in Pittsburgh with success, and played a big role in turning the secondary around.
Age, however, is not kind to those who play the cornerback position, and the reality is that Haden is 33 years old now. He knows as well as anybody that he has lost a step or two from his heyday, though he has found other ways to compensate.
Still, it certainly appears as though the Steelers are prepared to move on. While returning Cameron Sutton, they re-signed free agent Ahkello Witherspoon, who came on strong late last season after being acquired via trade in September. They also went outside the organization and signed Levi Wallace from the Buffalo Bills.
Still, when Dulac, in a recent chat, was asked about Haden’s status—he remains unsigned by any team as of this writing, and there haven’t been many hints of any teams expressing interest in his services—he did allow that “it’s possible” we could still see him back.
The longer he remains unsigned, of course, the more likely that becomes, as the more realistic he will have to get with his price, and perhaps his role, as well. Last year, while talking about hoping to get an extension, he told reporters he couldn’t see himself converting to safety or playing in the slot, and that once he was no longer even a number two cornerback to a good number one, he felt he would be done.
If the Steelers were to re-sign Haden right now, it is not at all clear that he would be in the starting lineup without competition. Presumably, the prideful veteran would prefer to go into a situation in which he clearly has a starting job and a salary that matches it.
It could be that teams are waiting to see how the draft plays out before deciding on older veterans like Haden and where they might fit in their puzzle. A team that failed to address the cornerback position as they’d hoped in the draft could certainly take a closer look at him, once the compensatory deadline passes on the first Monday after the draft, and bring him in.
He has given no indications that he is ready to retire, but it’s not assured that he will find the right spot he is hoping for, either, so he may have to compromise if he intends to play this year. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have him back in that locker room, though.