Before you say it, yes, I understand the NFL season is just three games old, but Joe Haden is not playing up to expectations. Since 2010, he’s played at a different level than most of the drafted and signed players on the Cleveland Browns. He had growing pains–as most highly drafted rookies do, but he overcame those issues and is now one of the top 10 defensive backs in the NFL, or so we think. Haden signed a five-year, $68 million contract extension this past spring. At the time it made him the highest paid cornerback in the league.
Ironically, Richard Sherman signed a $56 million extension six days earlier. Two months later, Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals, signed a $70 millon extension which gave him the title of the highest-paid cornerback.
Haden’s deal was well earned, but so far the contract hasn’t been equal to what he’s shown on the field. In three games he faced Antonio Brown, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith. Those are all prominent names and some of best pass catchers in the league, but as ” one of the best defensive backs in the league,” he has to take and welcome the challenge of the elite in each game.
Of all the receivers Haden’s faced, Brown and Graham gave him the most trouble. Brown had 5 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 23.2 yards per catch. Graham had 10 receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Graham is 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, and Haden got little safety and backer help against him. However during the game, if he would’ve played underneath, instead of over-the-top during Graham’s redzone chances, he probably could of got a hand on the ball or at least disrupted some of Drew Brees‘ easy pass attempts. Haden failed to do so, and it resulted in two Graham scores.
Sep 14, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) is tackled by Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns defeated the Saints 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Graham wasn’t the only player who proved problematic for Haden. He did a great job on Colston, who didn’t do anything all game, but he got burned deep by others on the team.
Haden’s inability to cover Brown is perhaps, the most puzzling of Haden’s failures. Smith Sr., Graham and others are not receivers the Browns face on a yearly basis. The Browns see the Steelers and Brown twice a year, so some familiarity should be there. Haden only had one tackle during that game and got burned several times by Brown on post routes and curls.
He also hasn’t been tackling as well as he did last year. Haden’s struggles have made him look average among the top defensive backs, rather than elite. Some could argue that he’s suffering from the “big contract jitters,” because he’s thinking too much on the field and is not having as much fun as he did before he signed the new deal. It could also be that now he has the money, the edge with which he previously played, could be gone.
“The great ones are going to make plays when it’s needed and i think that’s one area where Joe will look to improve.”
While Haden’s effort against the Steelers was disappointing, last Sunday’s game was even worse. The play of the game was made by Joe Flacco with 1:12 to play as he threw a bomb to Smith Sr, who burned Haden badly on the route. It led to the Baltimore Ravens winning the game by a field goal. Top defensive players cannot let that happen. He had a tough game overall.
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The Browns have a Bye Week this Sunday. Hopefully for Haden’s sake, it is not a day off and he is out on the practice field and studying film to get back to the elite level he played at last season. Coach Mike Pettine said it best as he was talking about Haden’s struggles ” The great ones are going to make plays when it’s needed and I think that’s one area where Joe will look to improve.”
There are 14 weeks left in the season. Either Haden will prove he is truly the best corner in the NFL, or that he is another overrated highly paid player.