Another Day Yields Another Indictment Made Apparent By Action

The headline says it all, I suppose. Another day, another indictment by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff and front office about the product that they were set to put on the field in a couple of weeks. On Tuesday, the team traded for tight end Vance McDonald following a disappointing summer from the entire group.

Yesterday, after former Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden became available following his release by the Browns, the Steelers pounced, earning the first visit with their AFC North rival and inking him to a three-year deal. This is such an uncharacteristic move by the team that it signals obvious displeasure with what they were dealing with at the position, as should go without saying.

In truth, Ross Cockrell has been on notice all year. He was told that the front office would try to upgrade his position. That did not end up working out during free agency, though I think this eventual move for Haden does validate those early reports that they were legitimately pursuing some fairly high-profile free agent cornerbacks.

The fourth-year veteran is only working on a restricted free agent tender that can be pulled with no salary cap consequences, and that seems likely to happen as we get closer to finalizing the 53-man roster very shortly.

After struggling in the second preseason game, the threat became action, as the Steelers rotated Coty Sensabaugh in Cockrell’s starting spot through the first half of the game, with the head coach stating publicly that he would have to compete to keep his job.

Evidently the competition is over and both Cockrell and Sensabaugh lost. They didn’t show enough to give the coaching staff confidence that they can do that they believe they need from the position this season, so neither of them will be starting.

I’ve already gone on record about the fact that I’m not thrilled about the acquisition of Haden, especially at the price—we’ll know more when the full details of the deal come out—but the Steelers obviously feel that he is a significant upgrade, which says as much about those the newcomer is displacing as it does about the newcomer himself.

Bringing in McDonald and Haden at this juncture is certainly out of left field for the Steelers, but of course they never have this kind of cap space at this time of year, nor is it frequent that a starting cornerback is available at this time of year.

Personally, I think that Cockrell is a better player than he showed in the second and third preseason games, and that he would have gone better in the regular season, but I also hold no illusions that his position could not be upgraded, especially relative to what the Steelers would like to do in the secondary.

That said, I don’t know that Haden is the upgrade the Steelers are banking on him being. As I told somebody on Twitter, I would like nothing more than for him to make me look like a know-nothing a-hole.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Tough business. I was not in favor of picking up Haden. Nothing against him but seemed like injuries had slowed him down too much last couple years. Like you, hope the front office proves me wrong.

  • SouthernSteel

    TE ✅ CB ✅ today a safety

  • MP

    Completely disagree with this assessment.

  • SfSteeler

    i agree, mostly…Cock does get better w/ study time, but his PD/INT and lack of agression weigh him down…Coty plays everywhere and will improve with more time in our system, so hes a nice #3 of the bench…

    Hayden may have lost a step, BUT man does he have the skills and hunger…we may have payed a little much, hes a veteran with a long list of accomplishments, but he will definitly win us some games…

  • WreckIess

    Call me crazy(but given recent events maybe it’s not so crazy), but maybe the next guy they should look at is TJ Ward if he gets cut. The back up safety positions aren’t good and signing him would help our depth plus the Dime/third down defense. VW has kind of proven that he’s less than ideal on 3rd downs. Not sure what his asking price would be, but if it’s pretty low, we can dump Golden and try to work out a two year deal. Maybe a pipe dream, but they could really take this team to a whole different level with it.

  • sixnine

    Come on Matthew…to even have a doubt that Haden is not a big upgrade shows you know nothing…Kml..just kidding

  • steelburg

    Not a chance he won’t want to be a back up. I could still see them making some moves but much smaller scale ones now. I could see a return of Sean Spence and maybe a depth DL player. If they do bring in a safety I think it will be a guy off the waiver wire and a a player who isn’t as notable in the league like Ward is.

  • Kevin Artis

    I would not cut Cockrell. He’s having a bad preseason but this guy pretty much shut down AJ Green last year. Maybe this signing and some time on the bench will refocus him.

  • Kevin Artis

    What I seen of Haden is not overly promising. He might be a slight upgrade over Cockrell but IMO not by much.
    I wonder if Steeler Depot can compare Cockrell and Haden work from last season. Targets, completions against, interceptions, breakups, containment (edge) etc….

  • Steve Johnson

    What it indicates is the F/O poor evaluation of drafting DB’s over the past ten years is haunting the Steelers. Colbert, Tomlin, Carnell Lake, Scouting Department and the Defensive Scheme. Somebody needs to be held accountable for the poor decisions that have been made year after year after year. “The Heat Is On” and they had to make a move, I hope both moves work well, it’s time to hoist #7 and Defense Wins Championships. I think the price for Hayden was too high, but Supply and Demand can be costly.

  • Steve Johnson

    Naw, next April. However, with the moves they recently made, I wouldn’t be surprise.

  • Tim Zernick

    I commend the Steelers for not settling. Their weakest two spots were TE and CB, they made moves to upgrade. Of course these moves aren’t a guarantee, but not making moves was far more of a risk.

  • Steeldog22

    Look. They’re betting that the slide is due to injury and that the lost step (or some of it) comes back over the course of the season (just had it after last one). They have a whole season to figure it out. If it doesn’t, they cut him. If it does, then we are in business. Either way we are likely no worse off. Plus we can likely focus on other positions more in next years draft (ILB, safety). As long as Tuitt gets signed we should be good.

  • Donovan L Faulkner

    With that said, it’s definitely an upgrade. To the author of this article, the Steelers picked a top 15 CB without having to give up picks. They are trying to slay the dragon that is New England Patriots.

  • falconsaftey43

    That’s an underrated part of both of these moves. They’re multiyear deals for guys who aren’t old. IF they do work out, they just removed two big needs off their list for next year. Hoping for the best.

  • Kevin Marshall

    I really hope they consider moving Allen to free safety, because I think him and Sean Davis would make a pretty good pair for the future once Mike Mitchell leaves….. Then maybe we can start getting some turnovers out of that position with a 6ft 3in safety that can catch patrolling the back end of the D…..

  • kamil

    I’m with you on that

  • Xclewsive

    Cockrell got all the chances to be a starting CB. He just doesn’t make consistent enough plays and it’s made upgrading him easy.

  • 太阳三联

    All I know is I don’t want New England holding up their 6th championship and being tied with us. Pisses me off even thinking about it. Pitt made the moves you guys all cry about so let’s just go with the flow and get this ring.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Cockrell is just a guy. Haden is a playmaker.

  • rdjmsr53

    If not Hayden then who? Forget about the money, please forget about the money. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. the biggest mistake is not trying to improve. My guess is that Hayden will play better for the Steelers than he did for the Browns. Maybe just maybe he got tired of playing for the Browns. never winning never a QB or coaching staff. Never much to look forward to. Forget about a SB, never a winning record.
    It’s going to be fun to watch and see if he has a little more jump in his step. Just think come October he most likely will still be playing in games that matter. In Cleveland they were already talking about next year.
    Good move for him and he has some college teammates on the Steelers, I’ll bet he’s happy!
    If he gets one interception, I believe that will be one more than Cockrell had. Bet that comes in the first game.

  • Dorian James

    Three million dollars for Joe Haden is a bargain, unless he’s not an upgrade from Ross Cockrell.

  • Jeff Dudash

    I’m thrilled with these moves, but I do agree with you that it is “uncharacteristic”. To that end, do you think these moves represent some inside knowledge of Roethlisberger’s plans for after this year? If Ben plans to retire after this season, all of the cap implications around these deals are meaningless, and adding as much talent to the 2017 team as possible makes a lot of sense.

    CB is a position that relies heavily on the other players on defense, and I’d like to think Haden was being dragged down by the Browns. I don’t know if he’s a Pro Bowler any more, but I’m betting that he’s still an enormous upgrade and will be the best CB we’ve had since Ike Taylor was in his prime.

  • george

    Is Spence available? I thought he signed with the Bears?

  • francesco

    I second your thoughts on this.

  • francesco

    AJ Green was probably having an off day and/or the QB.

  • francesco

    My biggest concern now is if there will be communication problems in the secondary😊

  • capehouse

    Good point about this move validating the Steelers interest at upgrading the position in the offseason. Everyone kinda laughed it off, but the Steelers were dead serious. I was hoping something like this would happen early on in free agency, and lost hope recently, dreading going into this season with Cockrell or Sensabaugh, but now there’s undeniable talent at the position as long as he’s healthy.

  • WB Tarleton

    What would be gained by comparing a healthy Cockrell and Haden playing injured?

    That Haden is a better CB when healthy is virtually not debatable. The question is whether Haden is healthy and will be able to stay healthy.

  • cencalsteeler

    The Boykin and Gilbert experiment may be numbing your elation for Haden and I agree. The Joe Haden name makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, but I’m with you Matt, we need to see it proved on the field. Kudos for another attempt to bolster up this secondary. Hopefully, the third time is the charm!

  • Steelers12

    Even if injuries has slowed him down he is still better than anyone else not named burns

  • Steelers12

    I think they will just wait and see who gets cut

  • T3xassteelers

    There’s reports we’re interested in ward 😂

  • SouthernSteel

    Can’t rebuild everything at once… Rebuilt OL then DL started on secondary last year.. Will take a year or so

  • SouthernSteel

    Maybe we can trade cockrell

  • John Noh

    I would have expected to do right by Cockrell and cut him by now so that he has a shot of catching on somewhere before the Battle Royale of the actual cut-down day. Let’s face it, his future and life’s work is not with the Steelers. That’s pretty clear as he does not have the position flexibility or special teams talent to contribute elsewhere.

  • Michael Conrad

    An injured Hayden made more plays then the whole steelers secondary did last year. All CB’s get beat at times . Its the fact he is able to cover in man for 3 seconds . The Idea is to put CB’s on the field to get up and press or play man to give the pass rush a chance and take away the cheap easy catch of the zone at times..

  • Michael Conrad

    Cockrell is not a man CB . He plays ten yards off the ball he can’t press cover. He was a fair zone player last year but not outstanding . He gives you no chance of using man coverage. Sensabaugh is not much better. Hayden may not be what he was but you can say go play man and he will do better the Cockrell.

  • #beatthepats

    I think your right, why no concern over mitchels play let alone injury boggles my mind. Maybe they dont want to admit to a 25 million dollar mistake. I would bring ward in in a second and cut mitchell immediatly. Go look at ward play against new engkand then mitchell. Mike mitchelm is a below average nfl saftey.

  • nutty32

    AJ Green is highly overrated. He can’t handle tall corners or being hit. Has no heart unless he’s trying to break personal records. Perfect fit for the heartless Bungles.

  • Joseph DeFazio

    I hope you and I are both know nothing a-holes regarding Haden. I don’t think Cockrell is as bad as he showed in the PS games but I also think they want to play a different type of defense that doesn’t play to his strengths and, well, thats going to make anyone look worse. He will catch on – never be a star – but probably play a few more years

  • treeher

    I’ll take a contrarian position and say that the Steelers won’t unload Cockrell at this time. While Haden has great history, he’s unproven at this time and if it should happen that his injuries recur or have a continuing effect on his performance, they will want Cockrell. The other thing I haven’t seen talked about is that signing Haden is the kill shot for Golson, assuming he wasn’t dead already. I’ll predict they keep six:
    Joe Haden
    Gay, William
    Burns, Artie
    Sutton, Cameron
    Hilton, Mike
    Cockrell, Ross
    and Allen to PS

  • Robert E Lil

    Hopefully this episode of scrambling to find another corner, of publicly denying the capability of cornerbacks on the team this year who won’t even be on the team next year – hopefully now fans and coaches can move beyond the William Gay’s and Ross Cockerell’s of the world. The Steelers realized what most of us already knew – the secondary was putrid.
    Joe Haden, an older, often injured Joe Haden, is the best cornerback on the team today. Time to move on.

  • Lee Foo Young

    McDonald and Haden may indeed not upgrade the team. But, I feel that both were good calculated gambles. If one or both both play to their potential, then we have gotten much, much better the last two days. If one or both disappoint, then we are back to where we were this weekend. I thought, overall, that we were a pretty good team after the game this weekend.

    Nothing to lose with these pickups but a whole heckuva lot to gain.

  • Doug McFee

    The new TE and CB came from two dumpster fire teams. Both are veterans. Both are high character guys. If healthy, both will be better than they’ve shown with their former horror shows. Now they have something to play for and that means something.At least they will look better! I’m happy with the moves.

  • WreckIess

    That’s a horrible idea for a number of reasons. One, Mitchell is actually a leader and a good safety. Saved the defense a number of times last year from Burns and Davis’ rookie mistakes. Two, the idea is to improve the safety depth, not make it worse. Three, Ward is an in the box Strong Safety whereas Mitchell is a deep Free Safety. Different responsibilities. And four, who performs better against NE is so completely irrelevant that it’s not even funny. It doesn’t even matter a little bit.

  • Robert E Lil

    Not only is he awful (Cockerell) but the Steelers believed he was awful. He wasn’t offered a contract that would keep him on the team next year. So the question everyone should be asking is, if the Steelers knew he was no good, why did they wait til roster cuts to find a new starting corner!?

  • Matthew Marczi

    I hope so. They certainly paid him as though that’s the case.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I would certainly argue against the notion that he is a top 15 CB. He’s not even the top CB on this team.

  • Matthew Marczi

    What exactly are you disagreeing with?

  • Matthew Marczi

    That’s the first time I’ve ever heard somebody say AJ Green is overrated.

  • Matthew Marczi

    It’s not $3 million. The Browns were only on the hook for $4 million if nobody signed him, or the defense between $4 million and what he got on a new contract if he got less than that. Because he got more, the Browns owe him nothing.

  • Donovan L Faulkner

    Mitchell a good player says the player who stated they did not practice for a flea flicker when as a Free Safety no one gets behind you as the last line of defense. The only time he should be up on the line of scrimmage is in a situation trying to stop short yardage. With Mitchell it’s all about not eating the mistake of signing him.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I think the looming prospect of Roethlisberger’s departure does play a role, but I don’t think it indicates that they know he’s not going to play next year, for example. I just think they understand that every new season is their ‘last best hope’ to win it all, and that they have to do everything they can to maximize each opportunity. Once the window closes, they know how long it can be before another one opens.

  • Matthew Marczi

    And as Alex has pointed out, there is legitimate reason for skepticism when it comes to the Steelers’ ability to gauge injuries of outside talents (see Boykin, Green).

  • Matthew Marczi

    The Steelers are not going to be a man coverage team this year. They were in zone about 75% of the time last year, with the rest being a mix of man and man/zone. This year, they’ll probably be about 67% zone.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I don’t think I would particularly object to this. I just think it’s more likely that they would rather keep Sensabaugh and his versatility (and they might also want Cockrell’s cap space with no dead money charge).

  • Matthew Marczi

    Tony Jefferson was awful too because he played last year under the RFA tag.

  • Dorian James

    WHAT ?? I completely misunderstood that.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, it’s similar to the Darrelle Revis deal. The offset language in the contract guarantees that he will earn X amount this season, and if he doesn’t get that from another team, the former team will have to make up the difference.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    LMAO

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    If the steelers think you’re a bad DB you might as well retire.

  • Jeff Burton

    I really doubt Joe Haden will be better than Artie Burns. And William Gay is a very good Nickle Back. Ross Cockrell has been disappointing in preseason but he is still a good option as a sub.

  • Jeff Burton

    There’s sort of a slap dash aura around these late signings/trades. If
    the Steelers thought TE and CB were weak spots they had 1) A TON of TE’s
    in the 2017 Draft they could’ve got. Rookie TE George Kittle is who
    made Vance McDonald expendable and he’s .14 seconds faster at the 40
    (4.66 to 4.52). He was available ’til the 5th Rd. 2) There were TONS of
    CB Free Agents available without speed and injury issues they passed up
    on. In the meantime, we have NOBODY past Bell and Conner at RB. And
    Conner’s biggest runs have come against the scrubs. I wonder
    sometimes…

  • Dorian James

    Now I’m confused as to why the Steelers would offer him the full seven when you could have put the Browns on the hook for some of that

  • Robert E Lil

    William Gay is worse than Cockerell – but to be fair I don’t see Cockerell playing the slot. Regardless – they are both atrocious. Joe Haden today is better than Burns, I believe. But only time will tell – but the fan’s love affair with Burns (eclipsed only by the love affair with Golsen) isn’t based on anything but hope

  • Dorian James

    Ok, nevermind I see now.

  • Dorian James

    Man I sure hope those next two years are not guaranteed just in case he isn’t good anymore

  • Robert E Lil

    Tony Jefferson you say?

  • WreckIess

    What??? He bit on a flee flicker??? Well that settles it. Cut him and sign Revis. Then ask Revis to put on 30 LBs so that he can play linebacker then we can move Shazier to Safety. Am I yinzering correctly or should I over react to some other plays too?

  • WreckIess

    How many teams with an elite running back are three deep at running back?

  • StraubStark

    Great move. Players can’t get content or complacent, we need to constantly be looking to upgrade. You cannot field the same, or roughly the same secondary as last year and expect different results. Banking only on improvement from Burns and Davis is not enough even, if they take monumental leaps forward. If Haden plays out this contract then CB is set for the next 3 years.

  • Matthew Marczi
  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see the final details of the deal, but I have a feeling they will be able to get out of it without too much damage. If he’s only getting $7 million this year out of $27 million then there shouldn’t be too much dead money involved.

  • nutty32

    I’ve been saying it every year after his rookie year.

  • Larry Kraus

    The one thing that Haden gives the front seven is just a little more time to get to the QB. He tackles and he presses. The front 7 should be happy for those extra fleeting partial seconds or even a second. That has always been the problem. Not enough time to create pressure.

  • Larry Kraus

    Look at Denver’s corners versus the ones Mitchell’s corners. Ward wouldn’t help at all. Great safety’s have at least good corners that they can trust.

  • steelburg

    He signed with the Colts but it appears as if he is last on the depth chart and likely to be cut.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Do you know anybody who agrees with you?

  • nutty32

    Unfortunately, no. Most people that know anything about people on other teams are generally fantasy players. AJ does put up his numbers.

  • Donovan L Faulkner

    That was tip of the iceberg he did not own it plus he is awful. The Steelers would get rid of him if they did not have to eat the money. I did not say Revis was the answer

  • MP

    General tone of the piece that Haden will not be effective.

  • Jeff Burton

    I can’t believe your opinion is based on watching film or the stats. Artie Burns had one bad game last year. His first. After that he became a very clear #1 CB for the Steelers. He had 13 pass deflections (2nd most on the team), 3 interceptions (tied for 1st on the team) and more importantly, teams stopped throwing in his direction. This was all while taking on the best wide receiver the opposition had to offer. He never had to have his role ‘scaled back’ as they did with S Sean Davis. Nobody has wanted to (or couldn’t) throw in Burns’ direction in this preseason, either. That’s why so many targets are going to Cockrell. Also Cockrell wasn’t used in the slot last year. He was the starting outside CB, so there’s really no comparing him to William Gay, who you also egregiously underrate. If anybody has a ‘love affair’ with Burns it is based on performance. To compare him to a player who’s never played a down is ludicrous. There’s no guarantee that Haden, who has missed 14 games in the last two seasons has anything left in the tank. So, I wouldn’t be so eager to jump on that band wagon. That being said, Hagen should be an upgrade over Cockrell, who has been pretty terrible. go Stillers!!!