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Is This Joe Haden’s Last Dance With the Steelers?

Joe Haden's storyline for next season has changed. Does this mean the end of the road between the cornerback and the Pittsburgh Steelers?

The Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback is reportedly looking to test the free agent market following the 2021 NFL season.

Haden is currently suiting up on the final year of a two-year, $22 million extension that he signed back in September of 2019. During training camp, the Steelers corner has made it very clear to reporters that he wished to play out the rest of his career in Pittsburgh. The Steelers seem to have been working through negotiations with Haden, but it sounds like those have come to a stopping point. 

His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, released a statement to ESPN's Adam Schefter earlier today that said: "(Haden) had decided to play out his contract and test the free agency market in 2022 when the cap is expected to rise significantly." Rosenhaus also added that "Joe has never been an UDFA before and is excited about that opportunity."

Back in 2017, Haden signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being released by the Cleveland Browns during training camp. The Browns released him, in part, due to his struggles staying on the field after dealing with several different injuries that kept him on the sidelines. His last two years in Cleveland also showed a dip in play which played a part in his release. 

Since joining Pittsburgh, Haden has managed to stay mostly healthy and has been a model of consistency out on the boundary. In 4 seasons, he has missed just eight games and managed to pick off 10 passes. According to SIS, Haden allowed a 46.4% completion rate, 455 yards, three touchdowns while breaking up 12 passes and picking off 2 more in 2020. Those are very quality numbers and he was a key component to one of the league's best defenses. 

A month ago, it seemed like this relationship between Haden and Pittsburgh would be continued a little while longer. It leaves people to wonder what might have transpired during negotiations. Haden has always been a highly compensated player, both in Cleveland and in Pittsburgh. The 3x pro bowler has earned over 116 million over the years from his contracts. Could it be that Haden wanted more money than the Steelers were willing to offer? 

While Haden has been mostly healthy, he's not getting any younger. He will turn 33 years old next April. The list of corners that still perform at a high level once they reach that age is slim. Haden is without a doubt the Steelers' best cornerback since Ike Taylor. Taylor was still playing some quality ball at 32, as well, but things went south pretty quickly after that. He managed to only play in 5 games two years later before announcing his retirement from the game. Could the Steelers be trying to avoid another scenario like that? 

Truthfully, we don't have those answers right now, but it's likely a combination of those two things listed above: money and age. Haden has done well in Pittsburgh and if he has another solid campaign, he will have no shortage of suitors on the open market. Pittsburgh might even be one of them but in the meantime, they'll need another strong season from Haden in a secondary that lost two starting corners in the offseason. 

Derrick Bell is a contributor with AllSteelers. Follow Derrick on Twitter @derrick_daKidD, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.

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