BEREA, Ohio -- Meet Jake and Joe, a couple ordinary guys with ordinary names, just a couple of the 80 the Browns have in camp.
A couple really different -- really, really different -- and really important ones.
When Jake was Joe's age, he was an undrafted dreamer out of Louisiana-Lafayette. The other day, the Browns gave Joe a contract worth a guaranteed $26 million.
Jake's 35 now. He's well aware he might not have the zip on the fastball he had when he went bombs away on a Patriots secondary coached by Eric Mangini in a wild Super Bowl six and a half years ago, but he's both grateful and anxious for this opportunity. Joe has a big smile -- he's 21 and worth around $20 million already -- and a whole bunch of ability. He's only been playing cornerback for three years.
First chance. Last chance. These Browns, at very least, are going to be interesting.
Jake was a Rajin' Cajun in college, a guy with a Cajun last name and some pretty good stats. He was living a dream when he got a chance to see "Delhomme" on the back of a Saints jersey, first spending time on the local team's practice squad before making The Show. A couple springs he went to NFL Europe and quarterbacked the Amsterdam Admirals and Frankfurt Galaxy -- teams that probably didn't have as much overall talent as Haden's '08 Florida team that won the national championship.
Those Florida teams are known for having a little cockiness, a little edge. Joe went there thinking he'd play quarterback. When that thought quickly got Tebowed, he became an instant starter on defense. The film says he'll come up and hit.
Watching Joe in Berea, you get the impression we haven't seen the full swag yet. Listening to Jake, you get the impression he's learned a lot along the way.
"There's only 32 of these jobs," Delhomme said Saturday, a few hours before Randy Lerner signed Haden's signing-bonus check. "Training camp, it’s hard and guys complain and what not, but when you look back on it, this is my 14th one. That’s fun. That’s how I look at it -- dive into it, enjoy it and do everything you can because you don’t know in this league. You don’t know and I think when you are younger you take it for granted, ‘Oh yes, let me get through this, I have so many more to go.’ You just have to enjoy it and that’s my approach.”
Jake's trying to enjoy football again after his storybook run in Carolina ended with an 8-touchdown, 18-interception 2009 season, that following a 6-turnover meltdown in the divisional playoffs the previous January. When Carolina let him go this spring, Jake cried. Panthers coach John Fox did, too.
He landed in Cleveland because he wanted to play, to start, to try to get his own career on track again while also knowing he'd be tutoring a young quarterback at the same time. He's the right kind of guy for such a job. When he's been right as a player, his quarterback rating has been in the 82-84 range. That's much higher than the 66 rating Brady Quinn posted over the last two years and literally double the 42 rating Derek Anderson had in 2009. It's been that bad for the Browns at the game's most important position.
After Haden's first real NFL practice Sunday, he talked about the expectations that come with being the seventh pick in the draft. The Browns have had way too many of those top 10 picks in recent years and way too few Joe Thomases to show for them. It's far from outrageous to think if Jake and Joe aren't good this season they just may have another.
Joe said he's been studying. He said he wants to show he's "worth the money."
"I’m just trying to work hard and just look at (fellow cornerbacks) Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown," he said. "I talk to Sheldon a lot because he’s been in the league for a long time and he’ll teach me up. I'm just listening to those dudes and try to put what they have into my game.”
There will be times when Jake will have chances to coach him up, too. The Browns' braintrust believes he will. The Browns have deficiencies, but they're going to try to fix them for the long haul by doing it right. Mangini is big on character and the mental part of the game. The new decision makers, Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert, come with pretty good track records. The best guys will play when they've shown the coach that they deserve to.
Once the real games start, Jake knows he probably can't slip. Deep down, Joe knows he's probably going to. He'll be judged on how he bounces back.
Jake and Joe. First chance, last chance, equal opportunity. They're in this thing together.
Follow Zac Jackson on Twitter @FSOhioZJackson, and check out his reports on all of Cleveland's sports teams on http://www.foxsportsohio.com!