Free Agent CB Joe Haden Named ‘Best Fit’ For Steelers’ AFC North Rival

Joe Haden

David Eulitt/Getty Images Demarcus Robinson of the Kansas City Chiefs catches the ball as Joe Haden of the Pittsburgh Steelers defends during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 16, 2022.

It’s been more than a month since the free agent signing period got underway and former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden remains unsigned. In the time since, he has had a birthday — turning 33 on April 14 — and has seen many other free agent cornerbacks sign new contracts, including Levi Wallace, who inked a two-year, $8 million deal after a sign from God led him to choose the Steelers over a return to the Buffalo Bills.

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A Third Stop in the AFC North for Joe Haden?

No doubt many clubs could still use the services of the former Cleveland Browns first-round pick, who has been named to the Pro Bowl three times in 12 seasons. Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report describes Haden as “the best starting option still available heading into the draft,” with Houston being one possible destination, “as it ranked 30th in yards per pass attempt allowed in 2021 and leads the league in cap space with $34.4 million.”

But Knox regards the Bengals as the single-best fit for Haden, as Cincinnati’s chances of getting back to the Super Bowl would be bolstered if it can “upgrade a pass defense that ranked 26th in yards allowed last season.”

The chance to catch on with a Super Bowl contender would seem to be attractive to Haden, who played the first seven seasons of his career in Cleveland, which drafted him No. 7 overall in 2010 out of the University of Florida. But it’s unlikely he’ll find a team willing to pay him the kind of salary to which he’s become accustomed, even if he is still capable of holding down a starting job.

That’s because his play slipped somewhat in 2021, when he missed five games due to injury and had just 38 tackles (26 solo) and six passes defensed during the 12 games (11 starts) in which he appeared, per Pro Football Reference.

The Steelers’ Record With/Without Haden

But for Steelers fans who are ready to move on from Haden, it may be a case of: be careful what you wish for.

As I pointed out back in January, Haden has long served as the glue that has held Pittsburgh’s pass defense together. Over the course of the last two seasons, the Steelers went 20-6-1 in games in which Haden was in the lineup, as compared to a woeful 1-7 in his absence. That includes an 8-4-1 record with him in 2021, as compared to 1-4 when he was sidelined by a foot injury.

Nevertheless, the Steelers seem ready to move forward with Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon as the presumptive starters, with Cameron Sutton the leading contender to feature in the slot. Meanwhile, James Pierre and recently re-signed Arthur Maulet figure to provide depth, while former third-round pick Justin Layne enters the last year of the rookie deal he signed in 2019, making this a pivotal season if he hopes to remain with the Steelers after 2022.

It’s also a distinct possibility that the Steelers will add a cornerback in the first three rounds of the forthcoming draft, with Washington Huskies standout Trent McDuffie seen as having the “lockdown talent” that would make him a good fit for Pittsburgh in round one, if he’s still available when the Steelers select No. 20 overall.

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