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Getty The Steelers could re-sign cornerback Joe Haden.

The Pittsburgh Steelers could be seeing the return of one of their star players.

Cornerback Joe Haden remains a free agent heading into offseason activities. The 33-year-old spent the past five seasons with the Steelers, starting 57 of his 58 appearances with Pittsburgh.

However, there has been no clear indication that the Steelers want to re-sign the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback.

Despite this, Haden is not only leaving the door open for a possible return to Pittsburgh, but a possible return to Cleveland. Haden spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Cleveland Browns. The veteran cornerback hinted at a possible return to either of his former teams in an Instagram post on Thursday, May 12.

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Dulac: Haden Could Still Re-Sign With Steelers

Haden is coming off of a two-year deal that paid him $11.2 million annually. He won’t see anywhere close to that type of deal on his next contract.

While the writing was on the wall for Haden to enter free agency once he and the Steelers couldn’t get an extension done prior to training camp last year, a reunion has not been ruled out from either side.

In fact, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac mentioned recently during a question-and-answer session with fans that the return of Haden is still a possibility.

Joe Haden still a free agent is it possible that he could rejoin the Pittsburgh Steelers,” asked Rodney J.

“Yes, and it’s possible,” responded Dulac.

This goes hand-in-hand with Dulac’s report back in January that Haden’s career with the Steelers may not be over just yet.

“Steelers place CB Joe Haden and defensive coordinator Keith Butler on the COVID-19 list,” said Dulac on Jan. 6. “Even if Haden is unable to clear protocol in time for the Ravens game, do not assume he has played his last game with the Steelers.”

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Haden Might Not Fit With Steelers Due to Depth

If the Steelers do choose to bring back Haden, the question becomes, where does he fit?

Pittsburgh signed Buffalo Bills cornerback Levi Wallace in free agency to be a starter. Meanwhile, the Steelers also return Cameron Sutton at the other starting cornerback spot, with Ahkello Witherspoon also in the mix after starting a few games towards the end of last year.

Despite his advanced age, Haden posted a respectable 63.4 defensive grade last season. That’s roughly the same type of performance as Wallace (62.8 defensive grade), Sutton (59.3 defensive grade). Meanwhile, Witherspoon posted a 75.9 defensive grade and a 78.8 grade in coverage last season. Among corners with at least 100 snaps, Witherspoon ranked 19th in defensive grade and 11th in coverage grade.

In other words, if Haden were to return, he would have to battle for playing time with three cornerbacks vastly younger than him. Witherspoon, Sutton and Wallace are all no older than 27 years of age.

Prior to the start of the 2021 season, Haden dismissed the notion of serving as a nickel corner for the Steelers.

“Honestly, I don’t want no parts of the slot. It’s a different ball game on the inside,” said Haden in June of 2021. “Those are the little sot receivers, the route trees are totally different, it’s a whole lot of different timing and stuff like that. I’m more of the outside guy. Those dudes can hold that nickel spot down.”

If Haden is unwilling to serve in a lesser role for the Steelers moving forward, the idea of a reunion may not make too much sense at all.

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Steelers Named ‘Potential Landing Spot’ for Pro Bowl CB: Giants Insider

Sarah Stier/Getty Images JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers scores a touchdown as James Bradberry of the New York Giants defends on September 14, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

On Monday May 9 the New York Giants released veteran cornerback James Bradberry after the team was unable to consummate a trade for the former second-round pick, this according to Dan Duggan, who covers the Giants for The Athletic.

“Though trade interest in Bradberry was tepid, expect a stronger market to materialize now that teams have the freedom to negotiate a deal from scratch without needing to part with any draft picks,” writes Duggan, who specifically references the Eagles, Chiefs, Raiders, Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers among potential landing spots.

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James Bradberry Has 15 Career Interceptions

Bradberry — listed at 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds — entered the league in 2016 as a second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, having played his college ball at Samford University in Alabama after transferring from Arkansas State, per Pro Football Reference. He started 60 games over the course of four seasons with the Panthers, recording 279 tackles (222 solo), including seven tackles for loss, eight interceptions and 47 passes defensed, while also contributing three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.

Bradberry went on to sign a three-year, $45 million contract with the Giants in March 2020 and authored a pair of highly productive seasons in New York, during which he was responsible for a total of 101 tackles (81 solo), with seven interceptions and 35 passes defensed, plus two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. But a trade or his release was almost inevitable, as multiple contract restructures saw his 2022 salary cap hit balloon to $21.9 million, notes Duggan. Never mind that Bradberry earned Pro Bowl honors in 2020; he “isn’t viewed as a fit in new defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale’s man coverage-heavy system,” related one of Duggan’s sources.

But he could be a good fit in, say, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, the former of which needs a No. 2 cornerback — like ex-Steeler Joe Haden, perhaps — and the latter of which could use another starting-caliber option.

“Bradberry won’t get a $13.4 million salary from any team at this point, but if he’s going to settle for less, it makes sense to sign a one-year deal with a team of his choosing,” concludes Duggan, opining on how things might go now that the Alabama native is an unrestricted free agent.

Pittsburgh’s Cornerback Room as of May 2022

At the moment, free agent acquisition Levi Wallace (Buffalo Bills) and 2021 trade acquisition Ahkello Witherspoon (Seattle Seahawks) appear to be the leading contenders to start for the Steelers at cornerback, with Cameron Sutton in the slot unless recently re-signed Arthur Maulet wins that job.

As for depth options, former third-round pick Justin Layne (Michigan State) enters the last year of the rookie deal he signed in 2019, while former undrafted free agent James Pierre (Florida Atlantic) will be embarking on his third NFL campaign. Layne, 24, has yet to start a game in the league, while Pierre, 25, made four starts in 2021.

The Steelers also signed a pair of rookie undrafted free agents after the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft, namely USC cornerback Chris Steele and “UDFA to watch” Bryce Watts, who finished his college career at UMass after beginning his journey at Virginia Tech, with a stop at North Carolina in between. Prior to the draft, Watts boasted that he was the “best corner in this draft class.” He’ll get the opportunity to begin proving himself when Pittsburgh opens its rookie minicamp on May 13.

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