Joe Haden was cut Wednesday after seven years with the Browns.
He’ll be back before you know it.
He signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers hours after the Browns terminated his contract, and will visit FirstEnergy Stadium on Sept. 10 for the season opener. Browns fans barely had time to miss him before they started rooting against him.
The Browns had tried to trade the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback for months but couldn’t find a team willing to take his $11.1 million salary for 2017. When he declined to take a pay cut, the team released him.
The Steelers were quick to pounce and will pay $7 million guaranteed this season. NFL Network reported that was how much the Browns offered as a reduced salary.
ESPN reported Haden had bigger offers from other teams but wanted to play for the Steelers, who’ve been trying to upgrade at cornerback for years. They had seen Haden up close throughout his career and believe he still has something left in the tank.
“I would first like to take the time to thank the browns fans all around the world from the bottom of my heart for making Cleveland a happy home for me for the past 7 years,” Haden posted on Instagram. “I want to also thank my coaches, the organization and especially my teammates who have become family. My God doesn’t make mistakes and I know the future is bright!”
The Week 1 matchup got a lot more intriguing as Haden will return to the city that became his adopted home to play in front of a fan base that once adored him but, in part, had turned nasty in the last two injury-plagued seasons. He will try to ruin the debut of Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer.
Steelers players were quick to welcome Haden on social media. His Browns teammates said goodbye.
“You will truly be missed my man!” tweeted left tackle Joe Thomas, the only player with more tenure in Cleveland than Haden. “You were always the consummate teammate, professional, and friend. I wish you much success in the future!!”
“Good luck with everything @joehaden23,” defensive tackle Danny Shelton tweeted. “appreciate the hard work and effort you put in for the team and The Land. All love bro, stay blessed!”
Not long ago Haden was a Pro Bowler, a fan favorite and one of Cleveland’s biggest celebrities. But the clock runs at hyper-speed in the NFL and nothing lasts forever.
The Browns reminded everyone of that Wednesday morning.
Executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown had reached the conclusion that Haden’s production didn’t match his salary and felt like Jamar Taylor, Jason McCourty and Briean Boddy-Calhoun were suitable alternatives at cornerback.
“We want to thank Joe for all he has done for this organization both on and off the field,” Brown said in the release announcing the move. “He has been a great teammate and a true asset to the Cleveland community. These are very difficult decisions, we have the utmost respect for Joe and in my eyes, he will always be a Cleveland Brown.”
The Browns would’ve owed Haden $4 million for 2017, but the deal with the Steelers takes them off the hook. Because of his experience he didn’t have to go through waivers and became a free agent, able to sign anywhere.
Many of the same fans who worshiped Haden when he first attended Cavaliers and Indians games in full uniform welcomed his departure. They became disgruntled over the last two seasons as injuries either kept Haden off the field or hurt his performance while on it.
But it was less than three years ago that Haden made his second straight trip to the Pro Bowl following the 2014 season, months after signing a five-year, $67.5 million extension. The Maryland native who went to the University of Florida had quickly embraced Cleveland and made a home here.
In 2015, Haden was named Special Olympics’ Global Ambassador, becoming the first professional football player to hold that distinction. Among his charitable contributions in Northeast Ohio, he hosted youth football camps and made sizable donations to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.
Haden, the No. 7 pick in 2010, missed 11 games in 2015, 10 with a pair of concussions. He missed three last year with a pair of torn groin muscles that slowed him throughout the year and required surgery after the season.
Haden said he was healthy this year.
“Joe gave everything he had for the Cleveland Browns and that’s all you can ask for as a coach,” Hue Jackson said. “He was a leader on and off the field. I wish him all the best as he continues his career.”
Haden appeared in 90 games with 81 starts. He totaled 376 tackles, 101 passes defensed, 19 interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
Last season, he started all 13 games he appeared in and had 48 tackles, 11 passes defensed and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.