The release of Joe Haden by the Cleveland Browns surprised some around the football world. Haden made second team All-Pro in 2013 and with two strong years before that, combined with first round pedigree, a lot of media members began claiming Haden amongst the best in the NFL. However, since then, injury along with other varying factors have led to the decline in his play, and ultimately, the Browns felt fine eating four-million dollars just to move on from him altogether.
Still, many teams were interested and were wondering who was going to get the player who has declined since 2014. When the Pittsburgh Steelers ponied up and signed him to a three-year deal at an annual salary that would put him back in the above average group of cornerbacks, it was expected by some but surprising to others. However, the important thing is to understand the expectations assigned to Haden by the Steelers.
Setting Expectations for Joe Haden
Joe Haden used to have a bounce in his step. He could give room and make instant jumps on the ball. However, in 2016 he gave up 43 receptions. Eight of them went for 20 yards or more. Those plays were given up to Odell Beckham twice, Antonio Brown, Chris Hogan, Jason Witten, Nelson Agholor, Martellus Bennett and Travis Benjamin.
Over ten percent of the time he was targeted he allowed a big play and gave one up in 72-percent of his games played. It is safe to say that Haden has lost a step or two.
Haden is playing nine yards off of the ball and Hogan still beats him within 15 yards. This would have been a touchdown had Tom Brady not underthrown his target.
Early in the season, before injury can be used as an excuse, Agholor burns Haden for a 37-yard touchdown. Agholor finished his season with two touchdown receptions.
Haden seems to understand his limitations too. Against the speedy Mike Wallace, Haden is fearful he will get burnt. So much so that he falls for the fake, leaving Wallace wide open on a comeback route. Fortunately, Joe Flacco did not see it.
Short Area Quickness
Haden also does not have the foot quickness and showed struggles in press last season. Jordan Matthews beats him swiftly off of the ball for a quick first down.
On slant passes and crosses, Haden allowed 11 receptions for 166 yards. Five of those went for first downs and one resulted in a score.
What hurts the most about Haden is how he is getting beat. He gave up 22 first downs last year, with 51-percent of his completions allowed moving the chains. Eight of those came on third down too. On top of that, he led the league in touchdowns allowed in 2016, giving up six. 65 percent of the receptions that Haden allowed went for a first down or touchdown.
On top of that, he is allowing a completion percentage over 64 percent in 2015 and 2016 combined. To put that into perspective, only ten quarterbacks in the NFL completed passes at a higher rate than quarterbacks throwing Joe Haden’s way. He has also allowed a passer rating of 104.6 when targeted.
Haden’s results over the past few seasons are not good. You start to wonder why a team would ante up a multi-year deal closing in eight figures per year. However, in digging deeper this may be a lower-risk, higher reward play.
The complete extent of the deal has yet to be released, but the only reported guarantees are $7 million, all coming in year one. There is a chance that the Steelers will be able to get out form under him in 2018 with no hassle if they need to. The team will release Ross Cockrell, which will save them $1.7 million. Cockrell was a free agent next season anyway, so the Steelers are essentially paying a little more than $5 million to see if Haden can be better than Cockrell.
In a role similar to Cockrell, the job will be avoiding giving up the big play. Haden can play off of coverage more, like Cockrell did, and is a solid tackler. He is better than Cockrell at tackling and is more athletic overall. Joe Haden is not going to change the outlook of this team moving forward. However, in that role and scheme he can be better than Cockrell and that is the most that the Steelers can ask for.