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Steelers News: Joe Haden chooses a number, but it comes at a price

Everyone was wondering what number Joe Haden was going to pick, and he chose No. 21—but the jersey came with a price tag.

Cleveland Browns v San Diego Chargers Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

How much do NFL players cling to a jersey number? Apparently, a lot. Just ask recently acquired Joe Haden who ponied up some cash to buy the No. 21 from safety Robert Golden. But Golden wasn’t his first target, that was safety Mike Mitchell, who has Haden’s usual No. 23.

Mitchell said the number wasn’t for sale, but Golden was open for business and likely made out with some extra cash in hand after the transaction.

With that said, it is time to get you caught up on Steelers news outside the walls of BTSC...

One week shy of his 27th birthday, Steelers safety Robert Golden received an early present on Wednesday.

Golden was financially rewarded for giving up his uniform No. 21 to newly-acquired cornerback Joe Haden.

Neither Golden nor Haden would reveal terms of the transaction but, judging by the ear-to-ear smile on Golden's face after practice, he was happy with the compensation.

“Something good for me, something good for me,” Golden said when asked what it took to part with his number.

Haden sported his new digits in practice on Wednesday. Golden wore No. 20, the number that previously belonged to rookie cornerback Cameron Sutton, currently on injured reserve.

According to Golden, Sutton didn't have much say about losing his number.

“When you're a rookie, that's kind of how it goes,” he said.

Haden wore No. 23 during his seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns. But safety Mike Mitchell wasn't willing to part with the number, so Haden went looking elsewhere. With a $7.5 million salary this season, Haden could afford to up the ante.

“I had to pay a little,” he admitted.

Center Maurkice Pouncey, whose twin brother, Mike, plays for the Miami Dolphins, has been following Hurricane Irma closely. Pouncey attended Lakeland High School in central Florida.

The Dolphins' home game against Tampa Bay on Sunday was postponed until later in the season because of the hurricane, which comes less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast of Texas.

“It's tragic,” Pouncey said. “Hopefully, it won't be as bad as Houston. Our prayers are with everyone there. I have a lot of family members there. We're all hoping for the best. They're telling people to evacuate. Everyone is scrambling, trying to get supplies in and trying to prepare for the worst.”

During the Super Bowl era, the Steelers have used their first two draft picks on defensive backs three times. In 1973, they chose corner J.T. Thomas in the first round and safety Ken Phares in the second. In 1987, they chose corners Rod Woodson and Delton Hall. And last year the Steelers selected corner Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis back-to-back.

Thomas started 88 games for the Steelers and helped them win four Super Bowls, but Phares never played in the NFL after suffering a knee injury during his rookie training camp.

Woodson is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Hall started only 19 games in his five seasons before being released.

The Steelers can’t afford for only one of their picks in the 2016 draft to make it. They need Burns and Davis to hit it big.

Their hopes of reaching the Super Bowl this season might depend on it.

“I look at it as a challenge,” Davis said. “I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job of developing and trying to become what they envisioned us to be. It’s time for us to back it up now.”

That’s a lot of expectations to place on two young players still in their early 20s, but this comes with the territory when players are drafted that highly. The Steelers are rebuilding their entire secondary around them.

The coaches were still sorting out other positions in the defensive backfield as late as last week. Joe Haden was added late in the preseason to be the starter opposite Burns, and first-year player Mike Hilton, an undrafted free agent, will be starting in the slot.

Trivia question: When was the previous time the Steelers started a game with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant?

Answer: Nov. 1, 2015.

On Sunday afternoon, when the Steelers play the Browns in the season opener in Cleveland, it will be the first time in 679 days when the four stars of the offense have trotted onto the field together for a game.

“That’s a long time,” said receiver Martavis Bryant, who missed last season while serving a yearlong drug suspension. “It’s going to be great. Everyone has been working hard. It’s great to have all of us back together. We’re going to work hard in practice, go into the game healthy, make sure we stay healthy during the game and have a great season together.”

What’s made this star quartet star-crossed is another hard-to-believe fact. If by game’s end on Sunday, all four manage to leave the field healthy, it’ll mark the first time in 994 days that they’ve made it through a full game together.

The last time that happened was Dec. 21, 2014, when the Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 20-12, at Heinz Field.

When the foursome was healthy and played together for a long stretch during the 2014 season, the Steelers were nearly unstoppable. Bryant was a rookie then, and when he was inserted into the lineup in Week 6, the offense went from ho-hum to high-scoring.

The Steelers' trade to get J.J. Wilcox doesn’t add a great playmaker, a supreme cover safety or a turnover machine, but it does provide some depth at a position that desperately needed it.

Wilcox is a fifth-year safety with decent speed who provides the occasional big hits over the middle and keeps the play in front of him. He won’t be a player who takes big risks by attempting to fool quarterbacks into ill-advised passes. But he will be a safety who comes up in run support to make big hits and solid tackles on receivers catching shorter passes underneath zone coverage.

That’s pretty much the description of what the Steelers look for in a free safety. As long as the free safety can be the deep man who doesn’t give up big plays, and also be an enforcer to deliver big hits that challenge receivers and haul down running backs in run support, Keith Butler will be happy.

Wilcox fit this role nicely for the Cowboys in his first four years in the NFL, with a total of 15 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and five interceptions. But most of his interceptions came from tipped passes that happened to fly into his vicinity, not because he made a solid read of the offense and got a good jump on the ball.