Now the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, Joe Haden is ready to play like it, week-in and week-out.
Success has not gone to Joe Haden's head. Instead, it has gone to his heart.
On Tuesday, the Cleveland Browns made Haden the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL when they signed him to a $68 million contract with $45 million guaranteed, and that has made the Pro Bowl defensive back even hungrier for more success.
"This contract only makes me feel like now I have to play like the best corner in the league," Haden said in a press conference Wednesday. "I feel like I've just got to grind. When I'm at practice with the DBs, they're going to see how hard I work, and there should be no reason why anybody shouldn't work as hard as I am.
"When you get your rookie contract, it's because of what you did in college. When you get that second deal, it's because of what you've been doing since you've been in the league. It's just something that made me feel like the coaching staff believed in me; the owners believed in me. It made me just want to go even harder. It was an unbelievable feeling."
Haden said he "definitely" consider himself to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, and that's something he is looking forward to proving on the field this fall, and for the next six seasons in Cleveland.
"I've been putting myself up there since day one, but when you don't win as many games, you don't really get the recognition," Haden said. "It's all good. Like I was saying before, once you've got your coaches behind you, and you have your teammates behind you, and you have the organization behind you, that's all that was mattering at the end of the day. Once you get a contract, then, everybody seems to notice what's going on, but I put myself there the whole time."
Haden came to the Browns via a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and although his draft classmate, safety T.J. Ward, has since moved on to play with the Denver Broncos, staying in Cleveland was important to him.
"I love Cleveland," Haden said. "I really like it here. I enjoy it here. The fans are great. I never just want to bail out on anything. I started here. They drafted me, and actually the fan base is one big part because of the way they feel about the team and the Browns.
"I feel like if we could really start winning here, there's no other place I'd rather play. If we could get this organization turned around, it would just be the best."
Getting a long-term deal done with Haden was one of the top goals of the Browns' front office, specifically general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine, when the two were tabbed to replace Michael Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski, respectively, early in the offseason.
"Joe has been a model citizen for us," Farmer said. "He's the right guy. It's the right time. Everything that we talk about playing like a Brown -- being positive in the community, being positive with his teammates, working hard, demonstrating how he plays at a high level -- have definitely warranted the things that have transpired in the last few hours. I definitely wanted to say we're very proud and happy to have Joe Haden be a long-term Brown, and that's what this contract extension was about."
Pettine added, "Defense is something that we're obviously going to pride ourselves on. It's going to be a cornerstone of this franchise moving forward, and we feel that we've taken a huge step in securing that in getting Joe locked up. I couldn't be more thrilled."
According to Pettine, the defensive coaches wanted Haden in the fold long-term because of what he brings to the team and what they saw on film.
"I know the defensive coaches were all fired up when they got the news," Pettine said. "Getting a chance to be around Joe and just kind of see his passion for the game and how important it was, how much he loves being here in Cleveland, loves being a Brown, that's infectious."
Pettine will be the fourth coach Haden has played for in the last five years, and although there has been much change over his time in Cleveland, he feels the team is heading in the right direction.
And that is a big reason why he wanted to remain in Cleveland, to help turn around the fortunes of a franchise that has lost 10 or more games in each of the last six years.
"It's a whole different feeling, from the top down," Haden said. "Everybody, they're bringing in a whole different feel, just as far as trying to wipe everything that was going on in the past and how the Browns are looked at. They're just trying to eliminate that and get us to have a new identity.
"I really like Coach Pettine. I think they're trying to change it up. They're trying to change it all up. I've been here for a lot of coaches, and you can kind of tell and feel a difference with what they're doing here, and I really like their defense. The players that we have here, we're not far away, at all, from winning. We still have a whole lot of work to do. Don't get me wrong, but we have the ability. We've just got to get the attitude."