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Joe Haden's expensive penalty does not fit the crime

Sep 13, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Pay the man: Joe Haden is paying a steep price for testing positive for the NFL-banned stimulant Adderall – four game checks amounting to about $1.356 million and disqualification from a Pro Bowl berth he so badly wanted to earn.

According to Brian McIntyre of the Yahoo! Sports blog The Shutdown Corner, Haden’s financial penalties run deeper.

He forfeited a potential $100,000 bonus in his contract for making the Pro Bowl. Per CBA rules, the Browns are eligible to reclaim $500,000 of Haden’s original signing bonus of $12 million. The suspension also jeopardizes Haden’s ability to earn up to $7.85 million in additional salary escalators in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

If you are to believe the report a month ago by profootballtalk.com, well, that’s a lot of jack for pulling one all-nighter in Las Vegas.

“If he knew the outcome before the situation happened, he obviously wouldn’t have done it,” said linebacker and team captain D’Qwell Jackson. “He’s feeling bad about it.”

The NFL did the Browns a favor by not acting on Haden’s appeal in time for Haden to play in the season opener against Philadelphia. Haden played hard and fast and aggressively, as he always does.

In his first game against his boyhood football idol Michael Vick, Haden notched his first interception since his rookie year of 2010, and nearly took it to the house, 50 yards in all. The temporary stay by the NFL was not enough to lift the Browns past the Eagles, however.

Afterwards, the reality of a forced, unpaid leave of absence set in. Haden worked the locker room before media entered and apologized individually to a few teammates for making it just that much harder for them to win a game over the next month.

“Joe’s a great guy,” cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “Sometimes we all get caught up in situations that we can’t control. It doesn’t define him as a person or a man. He’s still a heckuva teammate.

“I have a lot of respect for him. He plays his heart out every time he’s out there. I wish him the best. This is just an adverse situation that he’ll overcome and he’ll be a better man.”

Penalties don’t fit the crime: The NFL’s scales of justice are way out of whack if serial ne’er-do-wells like Dallas’ Dez Bryant and Tennessee’s Kenny Britt can have multiple arrests – in Britt’s case, eight since 2009 – and not be suspended, while an otherwise upstanding guy like Haden can get hit with a million dollar-plus penalty for taking Adderall to pull an all-nighter in the non-playing month of July.

For that matter, consider the severe three-game suspension initially slapped on linebacker Scott Fujita for putting money in a team kitty in New Orleans in 2009 for big hits and big plays by defensive teammates.

Fujita has a date Tuesday in the principal’s office in New York in the latest step of the inexorable process to clear his name. If his suspension stands, it will cost him about $644,000.

These punishments simply don’t fit the crime. In fact, there was no crime – unlike so many other players whose DUIs and assaults are swept under the rug or not acted upon by the NFL or their teams.

Moving forward: The burden of Haden’s suspension falls primarily on cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who probably will be given the assignment to guard, in successive games, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson, Baltimore’s Torrey Smith and the Giants’ Hakeem Nicks.

Also, by virtue of Patterson’s primary role as the nickel back – covering opponents’ slot receivers when they line up three receivers – untested second-year corner Buster Skrine will receive more playing time.

“Other teams have lost important players,” Brown said. “The game doesn’t stop. The show goes on.”

Whenever I’ve seen a player suspended for any type of misconduct or rule violation, I think of Kevin Mack. The late 1980s-era running back was arrested in July of 1989 on four drug charges. He would spend 30 days in a Columbus-area prison and missed 12 games, partly because of a knee problem.

Mack emerged from his personal purgatory a changed man and has been exemplary ever since. He currently works in the team’s alumni department.

When Mack was pressed into service late in that 1989 season, he repaid the Browns’ faith in him with one of the greatest individual efforts I’ve ever seen. Mack literally carried three Houston Oilers over the goal line to clinch a playoff berth for the Browns in the 16th game.

Haden might not have the opportunity this season to put his team in the playoffs. But if the next 11 games he plays are the best he’s ever played, that’s a start in repaying his teammates for the four games he’s lost.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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