The 2017 was a turning point in Joe Haden’s career, as well as an eye opener. It was the year the Cleveland Browns decided to cut him and he realized just how much of a business it all really is. He signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers the same day and had his eyes opened in another way, exposing him regularly to one of the greatest players he said he’d ever faced.
“They thought I was washed, and he said I wasn’t gonna get nothing over like $3 million a year. I got $9 million from Pittsburgh”, Haden said recently on the I Am Athlete podcast about his parting with the Browns. “They had AB [Antonio Brown], they had Ben [Roethlisberger] they had Le’Veon [Bell]. I said, ‘We about to go ball. You trippin’”.
Of course they didn’t end up winning the Super Bowl during his first seasons in Pittsburgh, and in actuality he would only have one full season practicing against Brown. But it was enough to drive the point home. “He’s my top two. Top two I ever played”, he said.
Not that that should be much of a stretch. He was arguably the best wide receiver in football for a good half a decade or more, and really his behavior was his only undoing. If he could have simply kept his head on straight he might still be running circles around today’s cornerbacks.
Having put Brown in his top two receivers he went up against, Haden was asked for his top five overall that he faced. In addition to Brown, the first one he named was Calvin Johnson, who is already in the Hall of Fame. He also named Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., and Larry Fitzgerald.
From 2013 through 2018, Brown put up video game numbers. He averaged 114 receptions per season for 1524 yards and more than 11 touchdowns. In that six-year span, he recorded 686 catches for 9145 yards and 67 touchdowns. Those are career numbers for the most Pro Bowlers.
All told, assuming he never plays another snap, Brown will have gone down with 928 career receptions for 12,291 yards and 83 touchdowns. Most of that came with the Steelers, but of course he didn’t get his Super Bowl ring until the end with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He and Haden had some spirited battles in training camp in 2018, as one would expect, giving the cornerback a greater appreciation for his craft than he had even been able to gather playing against him for the previous seasons as a member of the Browns.
And I’m sure he won’t be the only great cornerback from that era who would put Brown in their top five receivers list. Based purely on career accomplishments, he would be a Hall of Famer. It’s not shame to get beat by such a talent.