The decision by Browns general manager Sashi Brown to release top corner Joe Haden shortly before the start of the season renewed long-simmering tensions between the front office and Hue Jackson's coaching staff and was met by near unanimous disapproval in the locker room and with the football staff, sources said.
Haden was having a tremendous offseason, was healthier than he has been in years and was seen as a pivotal leader on and off the field for a perpetually rebuilding defense. The move to simply cut him, only for him to end up with rival Pittsburgh as the Steelers fortify for a potential Super Bowl run, was staggering to players and coaches (The Steelers were very impressed with Haden's preseason film and health, and will pay him at least $7 million for this season). Sources said Jackson was not aware the front office had been shopping the corner, one of the team's highest-paid players, and the coaches viewed Haden as an invaluable piece of their team, especially at a position where the Browns are not deep.
Jackson was "irate" when Haden was released, I'm told, as the move had no tangible football merit. The Browns received no compensation. Haden -- despite recent injuries -- was considered a key piece for the 2017 season, and the move clearly was a salary dump and viewed as such within the team. Haden was set to make $11 million and the Browns were about to take a $16 million hit by releasing fourth-string quarterback Brock Osweiler, but given they have more than $60 million in cap space they could have easily carried all of those salaries. Brown has clashed with coaches consistently during his controversial tenure, and the disconnect between coaching and personnel continues.
Earlier this offseason, Brown rankled others by trading linebacker Demario Davis, a galvanizing force in the locker room who was seen as a vital cog in moving forward, to the Jets for troubled safety Calvin Pryor, a former first-round bust. Pryor immediately became unpopular with teammates and coaches upon his arrival in June, and while his attitude and behavior were fairly well known around the league, the front office made the swap anyway. Jackson, who does not control the roster, preferred Pryor be cut well before the 53-man roster was set, sources said, but Brown kept him. Pryor was finally released last week after an ugly scene fighting a teammate.
Similarly, while the Osweiler deal -- essentially absorbing a cap hit and $16 million to acquire a second-round pick from Houston for the fallen quarterback -- made sense from a Moneyball standpoint, it was a mess by any football metric. One team source said Osweiler was "a cancer" in the locker room, did not to endear himself to teammates and brought little to the quarterback room where the Browns are trying to develop three young passers, including rookie starter DeShone Kizer.
The constant struggle between coaching and the front office has taken a toll on Jackson, following a one-win season, and recent events have intensified the rifts, with the coach's hands tied in personnel matters.