The apology came from Joe Haden’s heart. He knows he let down the Browns.
Speaking for the first time since he was suspended four games by the NFL, Haden acknowledged Monday that he tested positive for the stimulant Adderall, leading him to be banned for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Haden, one of Cleveland’s best players, apologized to his teammates, coaches and Cleveland’s fans for his costly misstep.
”It was just a mistake, just a very dumb mistake,” Haden said. ”It wasn’t in any intent to hurt anybody or hurt the team or hurt anybody in that kind of way. It was just a young man making a decision I shouldn’t have made.”
Haden’s loss was devastating for the Browns, who were 0-1 when he left and 0-5 when he returned. Without Haden, the Browns were missing their top shutdown cornerback and his absence caused a ripple effect across Cleveland’s defense, which was gashed for 502 total yards – 243 on the ground – in Sunday’s 41-27 loss to the New York Giants.
Haden was not allowed inside the team’s facility during his suspension, and the three-year veteran said the time away was torture. He watched games on TV like a fan. It wasn’t easy.
”When you see every snap from every angle it’s just a whole different look and I didn’t like that look at all,” Haden said. ”I wanted to be playing.”
Haden was asked if he thought the league’s penalty was excessive.
”God, do I?” he said, standing in front of his locker, penned in by a large group media members. ”It’s written. It’s in there. I should have been more knowing what was going on, but I’ve definitely served my suspension, everything is up and I honestly just want to move forward and come out here and play.”
Haden had appealed his suspension, which was upheld. He did not say if he did so because he had a prescription for Adderall, which is used to treat attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy.
”I appealed it because of the situation where me and my agent (Drew Rosenhaus) had an angle that we were wanting to go at it,” he said. ”That way that I ended up taking it, that we thought we’d be able to get out of it, but it didn’t work.”
After arriving for his first day of work in a month, Haden said one of his first stops inside the building was to meet with coach Pat Shurmur, who is under fire as the Browns have lost 11 straight games dating to last season. Haden did not provide any specifics from his conversation with Shurmur, who is 4-17 in two seasons.
”Me and coach, we have a special relationship,” Haden said. ”We get along really well and I went up there, I definitely apologized to him – I’m not going to get into the extent – and one thing he was really about was `All right Joe, we can’t be upset about this. We have to move forward.’ I’m telling him I’m sorry and he’s trying to give me the game plan. He just wants to get it going.”
Haden will move right back into the starting lineup when the Browns (0-5) host the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) on Sunday. Dimitri Patterson, who filled in for Haden during the suspension, injured his ankle on Sunday and said he expects to miss ”a couple weeks.”
As for his teammates, Haden said they welcomed him back without reservation. Haden knew they would be accepting, but still he was touched by their outpouring of care for him.
”The guys, that was my least worry,” he said. ”I just want the fans and everybody like the front office and people to really know what’s going on. That’s not me. Everybody makes mistakes, but with my teammates, these dudes were overwhelming how legitimately we miss each other like a family. They want to see the best of me. I want to see the best of them and I want to be out there with them.
”They always are shooting me texts like `I hope you’re doing all right, man. Thinking about you, praying for you.’ And that just meant so much.”
Haden worked out at a gym he owns in Washington, D.C. during the suspension. He’s confident of being in top shape and doesn’t expect to have any trouble getting back to game speed. He’s coming back just in time to match up against Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. The pair have been battled since their college days.
”Perfect timing,” Haden said. ”At least when I come back, I can try to make a statement going against somebody in the division like him. I feel like once I come back and just do my thing, then I’ll just be back.”
Haden was not asked if his use of Adderall was a one-time occurrence. While he was suspended, Haden got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, but said that decision had nothing to do with him prioritizing his life.
”I had four weeks,” he said. ”We’ve been together like three years now, so it was going to happen eventually. I just had a little more time on my hands than I wanted.”
NOTES: Shurmur did not provide injury updates on starting LB D’Qwell Jackson (concussion) or DT Ahtyba Rubin (leg). Rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson said Jackson attended meetings and appeared improved. ”He’s the biggest part of our team on the defensive side,” Johnson said. ”I think he’ll be fine, though. He looked good today.”… Shurmur was asked again about rookie QB Brandon Weeden’s interception on a 3rd-and-1 play in the second quarter, a turnover that led to the Giants turning a 14-0 deficit into a 27-17 halftime lead. ”I watched it a few times,” he said. ”It was an interception each time I saw it. It looked the same every time. We need to execute it better.” Shurmur was asked if he has second-guessed his decision to pass on that play. ”I want us to execute the play we call better, and then we’re always looking at better ways to do things,” he said. ”I’ll let you guys second guess it and we’ll work on getting everything better.”
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