The Cleveland Browns made a mistake releasing CB Joe Haden
The Cleveland Browns released former Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden this week in a move that stunned the league. The move makes sense financially for the Browns, but other factors play a role in such a decision.
Haden’s injury struggles weighed heavily on the Cleveland front office. His on-field performance suffered in the last two years when he dealt with concussion issues and a groin injury that required surgery. In the end, the Browns decided that Haden either had to take a pay cut or be let go.
Cleveland chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta remains a staunch disciple of the “Moneyball” approach, which focuses on analytics over other factors, including intangibles like leadership and poise. If it’s not something that can be proven by data, then the “Moneyball” approach somewhat dismisses it. That is the problem with Haden’s release; stats fail to show Haden’s true value.
Commitment to the city
The Browns returned to the NFL with great fanfare and optimism in 1999. However, their inability to build a winner contributed to a problem that has always been there for northern cities: weather. Free agents prefer southern cities or teams with a winning tradition. They show little interest in moving to NFL cities stuck with poor football and cold weather.
Haden proved to be a different breed of player. While other free agents often choose to ignore Cleveland for greener pastures, Haden embraced the city when he was drafted. Moreover, when he had the opportunity to leave, Haden chose to sign an extension with the Browns despite their continued struggles.
Haden’s decision to stay in Cleveland highlighted a truth that became evident during his first couple of years there. He became a Clevelander. Haden grabbed onto the positives about the city and locked arms with a fanbase that spent years mourning the end of the Golden Age of Browns football. Instead of becoming dispirited by the culture of the team and the city, Haden became a brighter part of it. That’s something that cannot be measured by data. The Browns need players committed to both the team and Cleveland. Releasing Haden did the exact opposite.
Leadership on the field
The Browns continue to rebuild the roster under the tutelage of head coach Hue Jackson. His youth movement will provide results in the future if the on-field leadership is there. Haden proved himself as a leader throughout his tenure in Cleveland. His departure leaves a gap on the roster that the team will pay for in the short-term, and possibly long-term.
The current roster features only one player, offensive tackle Joe Thomas, with over 10 NFL years of experience. Only three members are age 30 or over.
The Browns now field the league’s youngest team, averaging 24.24 years old. The Los Angeles Rams are a distant second at 25.09 years old. A youth movement brings energy and excitement to a football team; however, it also brings a lack of discipline and perspective.
Haden brought vital experience to Cleveland over the past few years. Even with a downward trend in his performance, Haden did enough to start even with the injuries in 2016. His positive character and never-say-die attitude served as assets for a young, inexperienced football team. The Browns needed him, and they let him go.
It’s fair to be honest about Haden. He failed to live up to his past performances in the last two years; injuries do that to the best of them. Haden’s large salary made it difficult for the Browns to justify keeping him on the roster if based on all the statistical data out there. DePodesta and the front office did what they thought was right. Measuring cost versus benefit is tough in a high-pressure environment like the NFL.
However, the Browns paid Haden good money for a reason. Every player suffers injuries; even the best athletes face trials throughout their careers. Haden fought through his toughest moments and entered camp looking close to his best. The Browns have plenty of room for Haden’s contract. The former Florida Gator’s track record proved he was worth the risk. Now Clevelanders will see him suit up against their team for the hated Pittsburgh Steelers twice a season, including Week 1.
The Browns made a mistake. For their sake, I hope I’m wrong about that.