[WEDNESDAY 4:30 P.M. UPDATE: Joe Haden is signing with Pittsburgh for three years, $27, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says. He’s due to receive $7 million this season from the Steelers — the same amount the Browns wanted to pay him. But now, he’ll play for a contender.]
If the Dolphins are seriously contemplating replacing Byron Maxwell with Joe Haden, the decision comes down to swapping out players whose reputations of being shut-down cornerbacks have faded in recent seasons, replaced by questions of whether their productive years are behind them and whether their bodies can withstand a 16-game NFL season.
The Cleveland Browns gave all cornerback-hungry teams — and there aren’t many that are not — something to think about Wednesday when they waived Haden, a two-time Pro Bowl selection out of the University of Florida.
Immediately, Dolphins Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey went on Instagram to try to coax Haden to head south of Gainesville to Miami. “South Beach?” Pouncey wrote from one Gator to another.
Unsurprisingly, money will go a long way toward determining where Haden ends up. The Dolphins could create $5.5 million in salary cap space by releasing Maxwell, who is coming off a particularly bad week of practice and play against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
But even then, it may not be so simple. Haden was due to make a base salary of $11.1 million this season and was released by the Browns because he wouldn’t agree to a pay cut. If his demands don’t come down, it could price the Dolphins out of the market since they just handed quarterback Jay Cutler a $10 million deal and are facing a deadline of Sept. 10 imposed by receiver Jarvis Landry for a contract extension.
The first question, however, is assessing Haden’s true value. The Saints, Cowboys, Colts and Steelers have expressed interest, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the Steelers are favorites to sign Haden.
Haden has played a total of just 18 games over the past two seasons while dealing with a concussion and a groin injury requiring surgery. The Browns decided he was expendable in part because they’ll rely on Jamar Taylor, the Dolphins’ second-round pick in 2013 who didn’t pan out in Miami.
And, to be blunt: Haden could no longer make it on the lowly Browns and was beginning to draw criticism he never would have heard during his Pro Bowl seasons of 2013 and ’14.
If that sounds familiar, consider Maxwell, who got off to such a poor start with his Dolphins career last season that he was benched early in the year, then came on strong, but finished on the sidelines with a bad ankle injury. Things were going well this offseason, with Maxwell presumably in position to start and in July declaring himself the best cornerback in the league. Maxwell’s place seemed to be on even firming footing when cornerback Tony Lippett tore his Achilles, forcing him to miss this season.
Then came Maxwell’s trip to Philly that raised red flags. The Eagles appeared to be targeting Maxwell, who was out of position enough that coach Adam Gase candidly said Sunday, “There were a couple of things that looking back on, that I wish he would have done different.”
Most notably was Torrey Smith’s 50-yard touchdown reception on a third-down play that kick-started Philadelphia’s offense.
“I had him covered,” Maxwell said. “I should’ve just stayed on the post but your eyes play tricks on you. You think you see a little, you see a lot and sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”
In many ways, there isn’t much separating Maxwell and Haden.
Haden, entering his eighth season, is 28 years old, 5-feet-11 and 190 pounds.
Maxwell, entering his seventh season, is 29, 6-0 and 188.
Haden played and started 13 games last season, with three interceptions, 11 passes defensed, 37 tackles and 11 assists.
Maxwell also played and started 13 games, with two interceptions, 15 passes defensed, 43 tackles and 10 assists.
Known for a knack of creating turnovers, Maxwell also had four forced fumbles to Haden’s zero.
Haden has 19 career interceptions in 90 games.
Maxwell has 10 career interceptions in 74 games.
For what it’s worth (and the Dolphins don’t think it’s worth much), Pro Football Focus rated Maxwell No. 10 among cornerbacks last season. Haden was No. 88 out of 110.
“Joe gave everything he had for the Cleveland Browns and that’s all you can ask for as a coach,” 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 posted a statement thanking the Browns and their fans “from the bottom of my heart.” He ended by writing, “My God doesn’t make mistakes and I know the future is bright!”
Haden has some history in South Florida. As a Gator, he won the BCS Championship in January 2009 at what is now Hard Rock Stadium.
The next year, as a Browns defensive back, he outdueled the Dolphins’ Brian Hartline, finishing with an interception, four passes defensed and five tackles in a 13-10 victory.
“They kept throwing it at me,” Haden said that day. “I don’t know why. They just kept trying, and I kept knocking it down.”
Then came 2013, when the Dolphins’ top target was Mike Wallace, who hadn’t enjoyed much success against the Browns while he played for Pittsburgh. Seeking to psyche himself up for an early season meeting with Haden, Wallace said, “I hope he’s going to sleep early because it’s going to be a long day.”
The Dolphins won 23-10 but Wallace finished with one reception for 15 yards and wouldn’t talk to reporters afterward. Haden’s only stat was one tackle.
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