With the Pittsburgh Steelers continuing to trek through the offseason towards training camp, a familiar face still finds himself without a home. That face is cornerback Joe Haden. The Steelers added cornerback Levi Wallace this offseason from Buffalo, but outside of that addition, the cornerback room is expected to stay the same as 2021.
The projected players to make the team at cornerback are the following: Cam Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, James Pierre, Justin Layne, and Arthur Maulet. The top three bring a lot of potential to a secondary that features the highest paid safety in the NFL, but Pierre and Layne have neither shown the ability to be contributors on defense. Layne has been primarily a special teams contributor since being drafted in the third round back in 2109.
Pierre was given an opportunity in 2021 to show that he was the future for the Steelers at cornerback after flashing as an undrafted free agent in preseason, but he was unable to show much of anything when given the chance. He started four games including back to back weeks in Week 10 and 11. Both games, the Steelers lost and allowed 41 points in back to back weeks. Pierre would be reduced to special teams play only from there on out recording zero plays on defense the rest of the season.
Last week, Steelers defensive backs coach, Grady Brown said that the team would miss Haden’s leadership on the back end.
“Joe was awesome! Let me just say that, you talk about me being a rookie NFL coach last year, Joe was awesome. He taught me a lot of those differences between the college game and between the pro game and how to approach players and everything like that,” Brown said last week. “And I’ll miss Joe tremendously as a person and just as a player, I mean I can’t say enough great things about his personality. I don’t know if he’s ever had a bad day, so we’ll all miss Joe, but just him being around, his energy that he brought everyday and there was an eagerness to learn. You know, he wanted to know whatever it was that I wanted, that I had to teach him. And we’ll definitely miss him around here.”
The only thing that may make Haden stop from coming back to Pittsburgh is the amount of playing time he would see. He wouldn’t start unless someone was injured, and he’d likely only play a reserve role. But last season, the Steelers struggled mightily at the slot corner position on passing downs. Maulet wasn’t feasible in coverage like he was against the run. Inserting Haden into the slot on obvious passing situations in place of Maulet would be an instant upgrade, even with Haden losing a step. His play recognition and smarts haven’t diminished at all.
You surely remember the play above where Haden’s smarts made sure the Tennessee Titans came up one-yard short on a critical fourth down deep inside Steelers territory. The stop ended a late rally from the Titans and sealed the win for Pittsburgh.
At the beginning of free agency, Haden was likely too costly for the Steelers for the type of role he would see with the team. But as we head towards July, there is no doubt that Haden’s price tag has likely fallen. Especially considering there are other cornerbacks available that teams would desire over Haden. Chris Harris, Xavier Rhoades, AJ Bouye, Kevin King, and Trae Waynes all remain available among others.
With Kyle Fuller signing a $2.5-million-dollar one year contract with the Baltimore Ravens, it should set the market for Haden. It was believed that Haden was looking for around $5 million per year initially, but after Patrick Peterson signed for $4 million, those hopes ended.
The Steelers have $23,106,733 in cap room according to OverTheCap.com. They have one rookie left to sign with Kenny Pickett. After displacement, he should account for around $2 million against the cap. That leaves Pittsburgh with a ton of money to ink Haden to a one-year deal. They also would have plenty of money to still sign Chris Boswell, and Diontae Johnson to new deals before the season.
A few months ago, Haden posted a video on his Instagram of him moving out of his Pittsburgh house. But that doesn’t mean Haden wouldn’t be able to rent a place for one more season in the Steel City. As the season continues to get closer, the more likely Haden will be to take a smaller than desired contract. That’s when the Steelers should pounce.
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