The Cleveland Browns had already signaled their readiness to move on from cornerback Joe Haden earlier this week, when word got out that they were shopping him around. Once those trade avenues eventually led to nowhere, the Browns decided today to cut him. From a distance, the move is jarring, even according to the cold calculus of the NFL: Haden has been the face of the franchise (its good side!) since he was drafted seventh overall in 2010. But his release is very much in step with the Browns’ efforts at a rebuild, a steady process that’s taking shape even if it’s not yet close to fruition.
The 28-year-old Haden was once one of the league’s best cover corners, but injuries (and the following surgeries) ate into his 2015 and 2016 seasons. His performance suffered: Football Outsiders ranked Haden 76th out of 87 qualified corners in adjusted yards per pass (9.2) last season, while Pro Football Focus noted he gave up a league-high six touchdowns in addition to 1.48 yards per cover snap, the 12th-highest total in the league. Granted, the Browns did Haden no favors by manning their safety spots with potted plants, but he’s no longer a shutdown corner.
Once you factor in that Haden was due $32.9 million over the next three seasons—including $11.1 million this season, with just $4 million total guaranteed and an offset—it’s easier to see why the Browns did this. Their approach—flipping assets for draft picks, even at the expense of sunk costs like Brock Osweiler’s contract—has already allowed them to build a potentially formidable front seven, plus rookie safety Jabrill Peppers. They also added cornerback Jason McCourty in free agency’s latter wave, and they have 12 draft picks in the hopper for next year, including five in the first two rounds. The Browns ought to be better than 1-15 this year, but they’re likely still not close to being a playoff team. By the time they get there—assuming they actually draft wisely, which is never a guarantee—Haden likely wouldn’t have been part of the plan anyway.
As to where Haden goes from here, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is doing all he can to whip up potential suitors: