Some divorces between player and team are complicated. Others are not.
Joe Haden’s split with the Browns on Wednesday morning—which, if you’ve been paying attention the last few days, wasn’t exactly a shocker—is the latter.
Could Haden help Cleveland still? Absolutely. Is he the kind of player the team wouldn’t mind having around, even if he’s slipped a little, because the rest of the roster is young? Without question. Are there people on the staff there that believe, because the team’s pockets are still overflowing with cap dollars (they have around $50 million in space), it made sense to just keep him? Sure.
So here’s what it came down to: Did Sashi Brown and the Cleveland brass want to invest $11.1 million cash in a guy who was no longer an eight-figure corner? After spending the last few days (to no avail) looking for a suitor to take on his contract (and the $11.1 million salary for 2017, plus de facto team options for $11.1 million and $10.4 million the next two years), the Browns gave us their answer on that.
There were other factors in play, of course.
First, Cleveland’s situation around Haden had improved. Jamar Taylor, on the books for $3.275 million against the cap and $2.525 million in cash, developed into a starting corner. Veteran Jason McCourty, who was the same type of financial casualty in Tennessee that Haden is in Cleveland, has proven more than competent at a shade under $3 million in cash and $2.344 million on the cap.
Second, Haden’s injury history made it less than a sure thing that he’d be a starter. He’s missed 14 games the last two years and last played a full 16-game season during his rookie year of 2010. Preparing him to be a starter, or even the nickel, and then being unsure of whether you’d have him could take away from a younger (and cheaper) player like Briean Boddy-Calhoun being ready when his name is called.
Third, new coordinator Gregg Williams’s defense doesn’t demand elite corner play the way that ex-head coach Mike Pettine’s scheme did a couple years ago. This internally knocks the value of the position down a peg, particularly when they saw potential for the pass rush to improve in 2017 around first overall pick Myles Garrett.
So you can add those to what we already mentioned: Haden’s play had declined a notch the last couple years, which was apparent to those in the division. The Steelers, for example, knew they had an edge if they could isolate Antonio Brown on Haden, having watched him roast the former Pro Bowler. Similarly, the Bengals no longer felt the need to game plan offensively around Haden as they once did.
Now, that’s not to say Haden can’t play anymore (Haden is reportedly signing a three-year contract with the Steelers). He’s just not worth a top-of-the-market contract as he once was. And when the Browns found him unwilling to take a pay cut, and other teams unwilling to take on his contract (which was affirmation that he’s not an $11 million corner anymore), the team was forced to make the tough decision.
Cleveland, to be sure, could have carried Haden at his number. They likely would have been better in the short term for it, which explains why, if you’re a coach, you’d want to bite the bullet and do that. But in the long term, given the landscape that Haden’s contract and play had laid out for the team, it was abundantly clear that the corner’s days in Cleveland were numbered.
And the Browns brass decided, in the end, that it was better to move on now than wait any longer for the inevitable.