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Joe Haden reflects back on the day which changed his NFL career

It was three years ago the Cleveland Browns released Joe Haden freeing him to join the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: DEC 01 Browns at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Sunday, Steelers Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden reflected on the three-year anniversary of when he was released by the Cleveland Browns.

It was August 30, 2017, when Joe Haden was released by the Cleveland Browns. It was a surprising move as the reasoning behind it was due to the salary cap, although the Browns had $60 million in cap space at the time of Haden’s release.

Apparently the Browns’ general manager Sashi Brown had approached Haden about taking a pay cut for the 2017 season. Haden declined to do so, mainly because the Browns chose to pay $16 million to Brock Osweiler who they were preparing to release in a move which would save the team nothing, but yet asked Haden to play for less money. After Haden decline, the Browns quickly and quietly shopped for some trade partners before releasing him.

For those who may be curious about the Osweiler situation, the Browns traded for him in the offseason where they actually took the player and gained some high draft capital while giving up next to nothing. The Browns took Osweiler and his $16 million guaranteed contract from the Houston Texans along with their 2017 7th round draft pick in their 2018 2nd-round draft pick while giving up their 2017 4th-round draft pick. In essence, the Browns paid $16 million for a future second-round draft pick.

Getting back to Joe Haden, although many teams were interested in his services he signed with the Steelers the same day he was released. The Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans saints, Kansas City Chiefs, and Philadelphia Eagles were all reportedly interested in Hayden, but he chose the Pittsburgh Steelers for three years and $27 million which reportedly was not his highest offer.

One of the reasons Haden fell out of favor in Cleveland was over availability concerns. After back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in 2013 and 2014, Hayden only appeared in five games in 2015 and 13 games in 2016. Injury concerns continued in Pittsburgh as Haden missed five games his first season with the Steelers. But over the last two seasons, Haden has only missed one start for the black and gold.

It was definitely for the best for Haden to get out of Cleveland as the Browns went to 0-16 during his first year in Pittsburgh. Reports surfaced about head coach Hue Jackson being irate with the move to release Haden and did not know it was coming. Browns’ offensive tackle Joe Thomas said the release of Haden was demoralizing to the locker room and did not send the right message to the Browns’ young players. No one can say for sure that Joe Haden‘s release was the cause of the Browns winless season, but the affect on the locker room surely did not help.

But the Browns’ blunder turned in to the Steelers gain. In 2019 Joe Haden returned to the Pro Bowl after playing 98% of the Steelers defensive snaps. His five interceptions was the second most of his career with the only higher mark being his rookie season in which he had six.

The last three years have been a good ride for Joe Haden in Pittsburgh, and the 2020 season is shaping up to be something special with the Steelers defense. But the future in Pittsburgh may not be certain beyond 2020. With Haden turning 31 this past offseason, and with more than a $15 million salary cap hit coming up in 2021 in a year where it is projected the salary cap will decrease in the NFL, many players on the Steelers should not be taking their future beyond the 2020 season for granted.

As Hayden enters his fourth year in Pittsburgh, the focus is on a return to the playoffs and, ultimately, a Super Bowl victory. On this three-year anniversary of the day which changed his career, Joe Haden appears to continue his appreciation of the city of Pittsburgh, Steelers Nation, in the first-class organization which has embraced him as one of their own.