The Pittsburgh Steelers could be seeing the return of one of their star players.
Cornerback Joe Haden remains a free agent heading into offseason activities. The 33-year-old spent the past five seasons with the Steelers, starting 57 of his 58 appearances with Pittsburgh. However, there has been no clear indication that the Steelers want to re-sign the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback.
Despite this, Haden is not only leaving the door open for a possible return to Pittsburgh, but a possible return to Cleveland. Haden spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Cleveland Browns. The veteran cornerback hinted at a possible return to either of his former teams in an Instagram post on Thursday, May 12.
Dulac: Haden Could Still Re-Sign With Steelers
Haden is coming off of a two-year deal that paid him $11.2 million annually. He won’t see anywhere close to that type of deal on his next contract.
While the writing was on the wall for Haden to enter free agency once he and the Steelers couldn’t get an extension done prior to training camp last year, a reunion has not been ruled out from either side.
In fact, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac mentioned recently during a question-and-answer session with fans that the return of Haden is still a possibility.
“Joe Haden still a free agent is it possible that he could rejoin the Pittsburgh Steelers,” asked Rodney J.
“Yes, and it’s possible,” responded Dulac.
This goes hand-in-hand with Dulac’s report back in January that Haden’s career with the Steelers may not be over just yet.
“Steelers place CB Joe Haden and defensive coordinator Keith Butler on the COVID-19 list,” said Dulac on Jan. 6. “Even if Haden is unable to clear protocol in time for the Ravens game, do not assume he has played his last game with the Steelers.”
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Haden Might Not Fit With Steelers Due to Depth
If the Steelers do choose to bring back Haden, the question becomes, where does he fit?
Pittsburgh signed Buffalo Bills cornerback Levi Wallace in free agency to be a starter. Meanwhile, the Steelers also return Cameron Sutton at the other starting cornerback spot, with Ahkello Witherspoon also in the mix after starting a few games towards the end of last year.
Despite his advanced age, Haden posted a respectable 63.4 defensive grade last season. That’s roughly the same type of performance as Wallace (62.8 defensive grade), Sutton (59.3 defensive grade). Meanwhile, Witherspoon posted a 75.9 defensive grade and a 78.8 grade in coverage last season. Among corners with at least 100 snaps, Witherspoon ranked 19th in defensive grade and 11th in coverage grade.
In other words, if Haden were to return, he would have to battle for playing time with three cornerbacks vastly younger than him. Witherspoon, Sutton and Wallace are all no older than 27 years of age.
Prior to the start of the 2021 season, Haden dismissed the notion of serving as a nickel corner for the Steelers.
“Honestly, I don’t want no parts of the slot. It’s a different ball game on the inside,” said Haden in June of 2021. “Those are the little sot receivers, the route trees are totally different, it’s a whole lot of different timing and stuff like that. I’m more of the outside guy. Those dudes can hold that nickel spot down.”
If Haden is unwilling to serve in a lesser role for the Steelers moving forward, the idea of a reunion may not make too much sense at all.