Joe Haden officially retired Saturday in the city he's always remembered as home.
Haden, the three-time Pro Bowl CB who spent the first seven years of his career in Cleveland, toured the halls of CrossCountry Mortgage Campus and watched a Browns practice for one final time as he's set to sign a one-day contract to retire from the NFL. It's the type of day Haden envisioned having in the summer, when he realized he had given the league his all and wanted to spend more time with his family after 12 years in the league.
But not before he came back to give a big "thank you" to a city that shared a mutual love.
"The main thing is basically I was drafted here, and the city embraced me when I was a kid," Haden said. "I came here, I was just a fresh 21 years old, didn't have any kids and I wasn't married at the time, and just the city embraced me, and they showed me so much love."
Haden, 33, was joined by his two kids, Joey and Jett, and his wife, Sarah, throughout the day as his career was celebrated in Berea. A seventh-overall draft pick by the Browns in 2010, Haden was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014 and garnered 19 interceptions across 90 games in a Browns uniform. He's seventh all-time in NFL history with 155 pass breakups since the stat began to be tracked in 1994, and he leads the league in that category since he was drafted. He's the Browns' all-time leader with 101 pass breakups.
His favorite memory, he said, was his first multi-interception game of his career when he picked off Bengals QB Andy Dalton twice, one of which for a pick-six, in Week 11 of 2013. That game, however, ended in a 40-21 loss, one of many the Browns had in Haden's tenure.
Cleveland was 29-83 with Haden on the roster, but the team's record never bursted Haden's positive energy that made him such a lovable figure for the fanbase.
Haden's love for the city was instant, too, and extended far beyond the Browns. His first memories as a Cleveland resident weren't from when he had a helmet on, but rather when he attended his first Cavaliers game and his first Guardians game. He said the Cavaliers are still his favorite NBA team, and he plans on attending their home game Sunday night.
"I was a big fan of sports in general," Haden said. "Cleveland loved their teams so much, so it was kind of really easy for me to fall into that, too."
Haden spent the last five years of his career with the Steelers after he was released on Aug. 30, 2017. He called the breakup "a tough day" and said he held no hard feelings toward Cleveland, although he acknowledged that the most difficult part of moving forward was the annual trip he had to make back to FirstEnergy Stadium every year.
"I think the hardest part was my first game coming here and getting booed by Cleveland so hard, and I'm like, 'it is what it is,'" Haden said. "I definitely didn't expect to get the loudest of a cheer. That was kind of one of the things that it is a business, so I have to kind of do what I have to do, but at the same time, I understand exactly where they were coming from."
But Haden knew last summer he had to come back to Cleveland to call it quits. The decision to retire came upon the realization that he wasn't going to receive the amount of money he desired in a contract to put his body through the grinds of another NFL season.
"Just having that realization and knowing what I have done for my body and what I felt like my worth was," Haden said. "When it didn't come to that, I'm like, 'I can really step away happy right now.'"
Haden will be honored Monday night against the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium, a chance for the city to give one final show of appreciation to Haden for what he meant to the franchise and the city.
For Haden, it'll also serve as a chance to say "thank you" back.
"I just grew up here," he said. "It was a spot that showed me so much, and I kind of wanted to reciprocate that love. It just finally feels like where I grew up, and this is the place where I want to end my career."