Browns hope investment in corners pays off
MAY 15, 2014 6:33p ET
Joe Haden's contract numbers tilt what's already a made-up statistic, but it's possible no team in National Football League history has devoted as much to the cornerback position in one single week than the Cleveland Browns have in the last week.
Haden is now the NFL's highest-paid cornerback after signing a contract that includes a $45 million guarantee. The deal had been in the works, but it was officially signed a few days after the Browns used a first-round pick on cornerback Justin Gilbert and a fourth-round pick on cornerback Pierre Desir. Per multiple reports, the Browns have also hired former NFL cornerback Aaron Glenn away from a scouting job to join the team's coaching staff.
So, a Browns team that still has burning questions at quarterback and wide receiver has spent a bunch of energy, resources and money on making life harder on opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers. The Browns also made a statement that they value both size and speed in their cornerbacks in new coach Mike Pettine's defensive scheme with the selections of Gilbert, who's listed at 6'0, and Desir, who's listed at 6'1.
"When we look at and list the attributes of and say, 'Here's what we we're looking for in a corner,' the press-man coverage ability, the ability to eliminate a wide receiver and allow us to play 10 against 10 and do that with two guys and play nine against nine, that is a much higher premium," Browns general manager Ray Farmer said on the first night of the 2014 NFL Draft. "Gilbert was clearly our top corner because he fits our scheme."
Though Haden is a very good tackler and all-around player, he'll never be accused of being a big cornerback; he's generously listed at 5'11. Ditto Buster Skrine (5'9), who showed progress last season and should be able to play inside in the nickel with Gilbert's addition.
2013 third-round pick Leon McFadden, who's listed at 5'10, made little impact in two starts as a rookie. The Browns signed veteran cornerback Isaiah Trufant early in free agency, but Trufant is 5'7; he's expected to be a backup and a special teams player.
"I'm confident in that (cornerback) group whether it's Buster or Isiah Trufant that we don't have to bring Justin in right away," Pettine said.
Still, Gilbert should be an immediate starter, while Desir should compete for playing time. The Browns have basically finished the last two seasons without a starting quality cornerback opposite Haden, let alone a full stable of cornerbacks in a pass-happy league. That's why the Browns made Gilbert the first of nine defensive backs selected in last week's first round of the draft -- and made the other moves they've made in the meantime.
"(Gilbert) is an exceptional athlete," Pettine said. "He has elite man-cover skills. The shortcomings of the things we feel are there are easily corrected through coaching so we were thrilled to be able to turn the card in."
Haden prides himself on being able to put the clamps on an opposing receiver and force the offense to the other side of the field. As Gilbert harnesses his abilities, the Browns envision making things really tough on opposing quarterbacks.
"(Pettine) told me that there's going to be a lot of man (coverage)," Gilbert said. "And that they were looking for a guy that could play press man (coverage), run with receivers downfield and make plays on the ball. I think I'm a perfect fit here."
Said Browns scout Chisom Opara after the team's selection of Desir: "In getting comfortable with Coach Pettine's defense, one of the things that does stand out...you learn when you're long, it gives you a lot bigger margin for error. You don't have to be as perfect with your feet or your hips, but if you're close enough where your length can make up that difference, then there is some value to that. I think with (Gilbert) and with Desir, we're able to accomplish that."
Follow on Twitter FSOhioZJackson