BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The moment that rocked Cleveland, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Johnny Manziel was coming, even wobbled one of the Browns.
Like everyone, Joe Haden caught Johnny Football fever.
“I was hyped,” the Pro Bowl cornerback said Wednesday. “You know me. I’m a little bit on the flashy side, and I like that.”
Haden’s a lot flashier now after signing a five-year contract extension worth $68 million. The deal announced Tuesday includes $45 million in total guarantees and a $14 million signing bonus. Haden is now the NFL’s second-highest paid cornerback behind Seattle’s Richard Sherman.
But even before the big payday, Haden considered himself one of the game’s top corners, a member of an elite class of shutdown artists with Sherman, Patrick Peterson and Darrelle Revis.
“I would put myself up there ever since Day 1,” he said. “When you don’t win as many games, you don’t really get the recognition. Once you have good coaches behind you and your teammates behind you and you have the organization behind you, that’s all that really matters. And then once you get the contract, then everybody else seems to notice what was going on.”
The Browns made signing Haden to a long-term deal one of their top offseason goals. The team completed the agreement with agent Drew Rosenhaus earlier this week, extending a run of positive news for a franchise in desperate need of an infusion of optimism.
Browns first-year coach Mike Pettine now knows he’ll be able to assign Haden to cover the opponents’ top receiver for the foreseeable future.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled and I know our defensive coaches were all fired up when they got the news,” Pettine said. “After we watched the film and got a chance to be around Joe and see his passion for the game, and how much he loves being here in Cleveland, loves being a Brown — and that’s infectious. It was something we put on the to-do list early on and we’re thrilled to be able to get it crossed off.”
Along with drafting Manziel, the Browns got Haden some help by selecting Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with the first of their two first-round picks.
“He’s a really, really talented player,” Haden said. “When I was out at the combine I got to really watch him go through the drills, and my little brother was a big fan of him. He had me watch his highlight tape, so he was my favorite corner coming out.”
But just because he’s now financially set, Haden, who was drafted by the Browns in the first round in 2010, won’t stop working on his craft.
He’s not satisfied. Not even close.
“This contract only makes me want to feel like now I have to play like the best corner in the league,” he said.
Haden has worked hard at his image. He’s a regular at Cavaliers games, and his enthusiastic attitude about Cleveland has made him one of the city’s most popular athletes. But a four-game suspension in 2010 for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy tarnished Haden’s otherwise pristine reputation.
It was a tough lesson, but one he’s learned from.
“It’s been a little long ride, a little bit of bumps in the road,” said Haden, who credits his marriage for calming him down. “But now, it’s all coming together. I’m super blessed. It’s been a whole lot more about football. A lot of that stuff can get you mixed up when you first come in and you’re making a lot of money and things are going all good. You can lose sight.
“I have my priorities in order.”
Manziel has already brought a buzz to the Browns, and the excitement will only grow in the months ahead. Haden is looking forward to the rookie quarterback’s arrival, and not just because it will raise Cleveland’s profile.
Haden feels Manziel will push Brian Hoyer for the starting job, and that’s good for the team.
“When you get to this level, it doesn’t really matter how much people hype you, how much people talk about you. It’s what you do on the field,” he said. “It’s going to be competition, and I like it. You get more attention here. You get more people watching the Browns, and all we’ve got to do now is just make noise and everybody is going to look good.”
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