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Thursday, April 22, 2010
Haden solid, but Browns fail to make splash

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Mike Holmgren
Mike Holmgren and Cleveland tried to trade up for the No. 1 pick, but got a solid choice in Joe Haden.
BEREA, Ohio --The first draft of the Mike Holmgren era in Cleveland started off extremely busy.

Thursday began with the Browns president trying diligently to trade with the St. Louis Rams for the No. 1 overall pick to take quarterback Sam Bradford. That didn't happen.

Cleveland then hoped former Tennessee safety Eric Berry would fall to No. 7. That didn't happen, either.

In the end, the Browns feel they selected the best available player in Florida cornerback Joe Haden. On a day when Holmgren tried to make a huge splash by trading with St. Louis, Cleveland made a solid -- albeit not very sexy -- pick.

Rest assured there will be some skeptics wondering if Haden fills a big enough need with such a high pick, which comes with a huge financial commitment. Last year's No. 7 overall pick -- Oakland Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey -- signed a contract in the range of $38 million. Haden likely will command about a $40 million package.

Yet at this point there's no guarantee Haden will be a starter, and that could be a point of contention as a top-seven pick for a rebuilding team.

Cleveland just acquired veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. He will be the No. 1 corner, while Haden competes with a pretty good player in Eric Wright for the No. 2 cornerback job.

"You can never have enough good corners," Browns coach Eric Mangini said.

Cleveland was in an odd spot to begin with.

There were five sure-fire players, but after that the draft board became dicey. According to most projections, there was not a huge difference between the No. 7 pick and the No. 13 or No. 14 pick in this year's draft. That is why the Browns explored moving up and down the draft board in the past few weeks.

Joe Haden
Joe Haden will likely compete with Eric Wright to be the Browns' No. 2 cornerback.
Browns general manager Tom Heckert said the team didn't get or field any offers to move down Thursday. Former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen was available at No. 7. But no team got hot on Clausen and was willing to move up, which was probably Cleveland's best chance to acquire more picks. Instead, Clausen was this year's free-falling prospect.

As the roster is currently built, having Wright or Haden coming off the bench next season seems like an unnecessary surplus when Cleveland has so many other needs across the board.

For example, Mangini refused to name the team's two starting safeties Thursday night because, frankly, the team doesn't have two starting-caliber safeties. The Browns also could use help at running back, defensive line and receiver.

Mangini also said there are no thoughts of moving Brown to safety, which would make some sense if Cleveland wanted all three players on the field at the same time. With the way the draft board played out, former Texas safety Earl Thomas appeared to be a more logical fit in terms of need. The Browns admitted Thomas was in the conversation.

"Yes, Earl is a really good player," Heckert said. "We all liked him."

But the Browns were more happy with Haden. So was the former Florida star, who was ecstatic to come to Cleveland.

"I am just trying to soak it all up," Haden said. "It's crazy. Just a dream come true. I feel like this is a blessing."

The Browns got a unique recruiting partner for Haden. Former Florida teammate and quarterback Tim Tebow, who shockingly went in the first round to the Denver Broncos on Thursday, spoke extremely highly of Haden during his visit to Cleveland. That carried a lot of weight with the Browns' front office.

Haden is a much safer pick than his former quarterback. But Cleveland needs Haden to develop into a shutdown corner quickly to stop the likes of Anquan Boldin, Hines Ward and Chad Ochocinco within the AFC North division. All three receivers gained more than 1,000 yards last season.

Haden believes he's ready.

"There's always pressure when you're out there on an island," Haden said. "It's just you versus him. At corner, you have to have a one-track mind and a short memory...When I'm out there, I know that I have to have a lot of film study and a lot of just knowing what‘s going on, and I have to be really comfortable."