The timing on cornerback Joe Haden’s release from the Browns, immediate signing with the Steelers, and then coming back to Cleveland a Week later to play a prominent role against them will surely be one of the top storylines of Week 1 in the NFL.
Head coach Hue Jackson said that it’s going to be weird for everybody, but that between the white lines, it’s football and they have to go out there and play. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has to already be on edge making his debut as a rookie, and he talked about what it’ll be like facing a guy who “showed him the reigns” around Cleveland:
“Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Joe, and he took me in with open arms when I got here in Cleveland and showed me the reigns around here, but now it is about going out there and making sure that when the plays are needed. We are going to go after them and try to make them.”
Haden’s Conference Call
Wednesday afternoon, the Cleveland media had a conference call with Haden. Having been here since 2010, Haden knows every member of the city’s media, which had to make it a little easier to speak openly about the whole situation. One of the key takeaways is that he holds no ill-will toward the Browns organization or the city of Cleveland.
He understands the business decisions made in the NFL, and where the Browns were coming from. While he wouldn’t get into details, he confirmed that the team approached him last week to talk about restructuring his contract. When asked whether he believed the decision to release him was performance- or financial-based, he said both aspects played a factor:
“I would say both, but I would say because it was two years that I didn’t really play that much ball. This year I’m expecting to be back, healthy, feeling good and ready to go. It was just a business decision that they made that the salary wasn’t matching up to my last two years of production. That is really how they felt so they decided that they wanted to cut my salary.”
Haden only played 18 games over the past two years, and one could argue that for nearly every game he played in during that stretch, he played through injuries, which impacted his performance. He’s still as confident as ever about his abilities, though, saying that he believes he’s the best cornerback in the AFC North. If Cleveland throws the ball his way, he’ll be ready:
“Honestly, that doesn’t matter. I expect every time I am lined up out there that they might throw the ball to me. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go and be ready to make some plays. If they do, they do. If they don’t, they don’t. I’m just going to be ready for whatever.”
Facing Corey Coleman and ‘Why Pittsburgh?’
Haden was asked about possibly going up against wide receiver Corey Coleman on Sunday, and he talked about the relationship they’ve had not just with Cleveland, but for many years:
“[Corey] is like a brother to me. Ever since he signed with Jordan, when we were out at the Nike camp and he was in high school, I was his coach. I have known Corey for a while. We are super good friends. The thing is friends are people I play against all of the time. When we are on the field, it is what it is. I have to do my job, and they have to do theirs done, but off the game field it is all love.”
After the Browns released Haden, playing for their rival to “get back at them” didn’t offer any motivation. Why did he choose Pittsburgh, then? Simply put, he wanted to sign ASAP with someone who would play him Week 1, and Pittsburgh brought the money, familiarity, and likelihood of contending for a playoff team.
“I was ready because the season was right around the corner. I had no time to be sitting there weighing my options, thinking about what just happened. Once you get cut and you are not on a team, I am ready to play Week 1. I was just trying to get to a team as quickly as I could. That is just what it was. Once I realized that Pittsburgh was a team that was in the hunt as far as money-wise goes and everything – they were all in, they were very, very interested in me and they wanted me to come – then, I just looked at it from my side as far as me and my family and what I have been going through. If I had a chance to play for a team like Pittsburgh, they are a really good team, a first-class organization, (Head) Coach (Mike) Tomlin, I knew a couple of players on the team and just seeing the direction they have been going and the consistency and how they play. I was like, ‘I could go be a part of that and try to have something special.’”
He’ll Still Attend Cavs Games & Manage His Store
Although the Browns are no longer his NFL team, Cleveland is still very much his city, where he’ll be attending important Cavaliers games and managing his shoe store.
“Oh, I’m still going to be at the Q for sure – playoff games and all. I went to Summer Jam last Saturday at The Q. I’m still going to be in Cleveland. I still have my store there. I’m not going to close my store. I have reasons to still be up there. I have a lot of friends that I have up there so Cleveland is still going to be a spot that I come to. For sure will be at the playoff games because the Cavs are still my favorite team. That won’t change anything, but I will be in Pittsburgh.”