CLEVELAND -- When two rival teams play, there are plenty of familiar faces on the both sidelines, but when the Cleveland Browns open the 2017 regular season against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday, there will be a little more familiarity with one defensive back in particular: Joe Haden.
Waived by the Browns just before the team made the trip to Chicago for the preseason finale against the Bears last Wednesday, Haden signed a contract with the Steelers only eight hours later, and will make his debut in the black and yellow in Cleveland, which will be a unique experience for his former teammates.
“It’ll definitely be unusual and strange to see him in a Steelers jersey,” 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said of Haden. “Being my teammate for so long, it’ll be tough seeing him in the yellow and black colors.”
A first-round pick out of the University of Florida in the 2010 NFL Draft, Haden was the second-longest tenured Browns player, behind only 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas.
In his seven seasons with the Browns, Haden registered 376 total tackles, including 311 solo stops, 65 assists, two sacks, 101 passes defended, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 19 interceptions, which he returned for 231 yards and one touchdown.
By releasing Haden instead of being patient in the trade market, the Browns did not get a single asset in return, and since Sashi Brown took over control of the 53-man roster on January 3, 2016, acquiring picks in the NFL Draft has been of utmost importance in Berea.
“I was just as surprised as anybody else,” Thomas said.
“I don’t really know a whole lot about the position, so it’s hard for me to say, ‘Oh, he’s not playing well,’ or ‘Oh, he is playing well’ because I just don’t know, but I think when you have a guy that’s a Pro Bowl corner, that’s one of your highest-paid guys on the team, it’s not like there was whispers, ‘Oh, Joe’s going to get cut.’ I think it was a big surprise.”
Although the Browns let go of Haden and got nothing in exchange, linebacker Christian Kirksey is confident the team has his replacement on hand.
“We believe that the guys that are in that group have all been coached the same, so we believe in the guys that are going to step up and filling that role that Joe had,” Kirksey said. “Joe’s a good friend of mine. He’s a tremendous player.
“At the end of the day, Joe has to do what he do. It’s a business. It’s a profession that we don’t always know what’s going on. You’ve just kind of got to ride the wave, take the punches. I know that he’ll do great in his career. He was a great player for us. He will truly be missed, but we’ve just got to continue raise younger guys into being in that starting role and trying to fill the spot that he left.”
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