Cleveland Browns: Can Joe Haden stay healthy?
The Cleveland Browns need cornerback Joe Haden healthy and on the field in 2016. But can he make a return to health after an injury-plagued 2015 season?
After going through yet another injury plagued 2015 season Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden enters 2016 with a fresh focus and new motivation.
The former Florida Gator made quite an initial impression on the Browns, recording 57 tackles in his rookie season. He has continued to impress, when healthy, resulting in the Browns signing Haden to a five-year, $68 million contract extension before the 2014 season.
Unfortunately, Haden’s last full season came in his rookie season as injuries have caused him to miss time every year since. Statistically, it seems that Haden’s play has also declined since being drafted seventh overall by the Browns, with the exception of a very good 2014 season.
A concussion, along with injuries to his ankle and finger, derailed Haden’s 2015 campaign, in which he only played in five games for a struggling Browns organization. Though it’s not reasonable to assume that Cleveland’s win total would have changed with Haden on the field, the impact he would have made for a struggling secondary is undeniable.
The Browns secondary was delivered a harsh blow when Buster Skrine left via free agency prior to the 2015 season, even with the signing of veteran Tramon Williams to take his place. Justin Gilbert, one of the team’s first-round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, has not yet panned out, leaving the unit even more depleted.
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Cleveland has been busy this off-season securing depth for the cornerback position, but the quality of these players remains to be determined. It is clear that the Browns need help, specifically due to the growing pass heavy nature of modern football.
Haden’s experience and drive to deliver a winning football team to Cleveland will not only impact the secondary, but the team as a whole. His leadership is invaluable, especially with a first-year head coach and a very young team. In addition, being one of the longest currently tenured Browns players makes him a fan favorite, exciting fans whenever he is able to be on the field.
In his six-year NFL career, Haden has suffered re-occurring injuries with his hip, finger, shoulder, ribs, ankle, foot and head. While it is common for all football players to experience injury multiple times during their career, this kind of run of consistent ailments is more unique.
This isn’t to say that Haden is unable to go a season without injury, or that his career will be defined by injuries. The flashes he has shown when healthy are promising, and he appears to be in good shape. The likely causes of the injuries are beyond his control, and a healthy 2016 will not depend solely on his preparation. Fortunately, it seems quite possible that Haden could go a full year healthy, as he seems to be entering training camp.
If positive attitude is any inclination, Haden has an abundance of it, and promises to work hard. His excitement to get training camp started is contagious, a sentiment that the Browns need to energize a less than hopeful fan base.
In addition to Haden’s existing undying passion and motivation for the Browns and the city of Cleveland, this season he has even more to play for. With the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA championship, Haden is determined to achieve a championship with the Browns. A big Cavaliers fan himself, the Browns veteran finds extra motivation in the Cavs title. Haden responded on Twitter when asked if he thought the first championship in Cleveland in more than 52 years took any pressure off of him and the Browns:
The leader of this defense is certainly ready to get to work in 2016, but can he stay healthy? What Haden has displayed thus far is promising, and it appears he is fully recovered from any lingering injuries.
Sure, Browns fans may be holding their breath every time Haden absorbs contact. But it will be good for the Browns to have his determined veteran presence back on the field.
Next: Browns fans: What would you do?
Hopefully, Cleveland’s defensive leader will play a full, healthy 16 games this season, and lead his team to a much more successful 2016.