Cleveland Browns

Reputation wasn’t enough to save Joe Haden

Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) sets up at the line of scrimmage during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla., Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

A big reputation and an even bigger salary are why Joe Haden will count toward the nation’s unemployment rate, albeit for a very short time.

The Cleveland Browns released the veteran cornerback Wednesday morning after executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown quickly surmised that Haden’s contract limited any ability to get an asset in return on the trade market.

Haden was once regarded as one of the better cover cornerbacks in what is essentially a cornerback-deficient league, and the reputation he garnered from that sustained him longer than it probably should have.

As a vested veteran, the Browns would have been on the hook for Haden’s entire $11 million salary come Week 1. The organization had the opportunity to get away with paying $4M by releasing him, along with the added benefit of a little extra cap space, so this was more of a money move than anything else.

Furthermore, Haden was under contract for two more years after this one at big numbers ($11.2M and $10.4M, respectively).

However, you don’t quibble about handing out checks like that if you do possess a true Pro Bowl-level CB1, which Haden unquestionably was at one point in his career.

“These are very difficult decisions,” Brown admitted.

Not that difficult based on Haden’s performance over the last two seasons.

Football is a nuanced game when compared to its counterparts on the sports landscape, Major League Baseball and the NBA.

The advent of player-grading services like ProFootballFocus.com, however, have given the casual fan the ability to peek behind the curtain and get the real skinny. Even if the methodology isn’t perfect, the information does give you a good indication as to who is actually playing well and who isn’t.

Haden’s decline can be traced to 2015 when he went through an injury-plagued campaign, playing in just five games, much of it due to a concussion. Last season he was able to be on the field quite a bit more (13 games) but he was struggling with a groin injury much of the time.

Veteran cornerback Leodis McKelvin once called those kinds of things “fast-guy injuries” when talking with FanRag Sports, and trying to play with them at a thoroughbred position like CB is usually not going to end well.

Of the 110 corners who played enough to be graded by ProFootballFocus.com last season, Haden finished at No. 88, hardly what you would expect from a former No. 7 overall pick who eventually developed into a second-team All-Pro.

It might take a little bit of time for opposing quarterbacks to figure out a big reputation is just that, but when they do, all of a sudden the traffic is going to pick up dramatically and Ben Roethlisberger isn’t going to care if he’s throwing at an undrafted free agent or the big name.

Haden will not stay unemployed for long because he’s only 28 and Pro Bowls berths in 2013 and 2014 are still relatively fresh in many decision-maker’s minds.

Already, CB-deficient teams are lining up for Haden, including high-profiles ones like Dallas and Pittsburgh, an NFL source told FanRag Sports.

The hope will be if you can get him healthy, Haden can still be a meaningful part of a good defense, but that’s not something that anyone is paying $11M for.

As for Cleveland, it added veteran Jason McCourty, who defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is comfortable with from their time together in Tennessee, as well as Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun as the core of the group.

It’s no longer a sexy position with Haden out of the mix, but the Browns would rather have the steak of competency rather than the sizzle of the brand name.

-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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