The Browns believe the performance of Joe Haden didn’t match his lucrative contract, so they cut the cornerback Wednesday morning, allowing him to transform from friend to foe.

Haden will receive a chance to prove the Browns wrong when the rival Pittsburgh Steelers visit Cleveland for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener. The Steelers announced Wednesday night they signed Haden to a three-year contract, reportedly worth $27 million.

It would be difficult to fathom a more intriguing development in the AFC North or a sexier storyline for Week 1.

Less than six hours after the Browns released Haden on a newsy day, they gave up on another former first-round draft pick, trading offensive lineman Cameron Erving to the Kansas City Chiefs in an exchange for a conditional fifth-round choice in 2018.

Of the 13 players the Browns drafted in the first round from 2007-16, only three remain on the roster: left tackle Joe Thomas (third overall, 2007), defensive tackle Danny Shelton (12th overall, 2015) and wide receiver Corey Coleman (15th overall, 2016).

Haden, the seventh overall pick in 2010, and Erving, the 19th overall selection in 2015, left the Browns with vastly different legacies. Haden made two Pro Bowls before injuries wrecked his career the past two years. Erving proved to be a bust.

An NFL source told the Beacon Journal on Tuesday the Browns had floated Haden’s name to other teams in trade talks for a while. CBS reported the Browns sought a fourth-round pick, which could have turned into a third-rounder based on playing time, as trade compensation for Haden. No one took the bait.

The organization also approached Haden about accepting a pay cut, but he declined. NFL Network reported the Browns wanted to reduce Haden’s salary this year from about $11 million to $7 million, and now he’ll make $7 million guaranteed with the Steelers in 2017. ESPN reported Haden turned down bigger offers from other suitors after the Browns cut him because he preferred to play for the Steelers.

Unable to find a trade partner or work out a restructured deal, the Browns severed ties with Haden, who had been a face of their franchise.

As for Erving, he had been on the trade block since the draft in late April, a league source said Tuesday.

There’s a third player the Browns have shopped who remains on the roster. They’ve been open to trading veteran quarterback Brock Osweiler since they acquired him and the $16 million guaranteed on his contract March 9 in a deal designed to land the 2018 second-round pick of the Houston Texans. With all NFL teams required to trim their rosters from a maximum of 90 players to a maximum of 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday, Osweiler cannot be ruled out as a potential cutdown casualty.

Even if the Browns part with Osweiler in the coming days, Haden will remain the headliner of their cuts this week.

“We want to thank Joe for all he has done for this organization both on and off the field,” Browns head of football operations Sashi Brown said in a news release. “He has been a great teammate and a true asset to the Cleveland community. These are very difficult decisions, we have the utmost respect for Joe and in my eyes, he will always be a Cleveland Brown.”

The Browns grew dissatisfied with Haden’s play this summer and favored Jamar Taylor and Jason McCourty. Second-year player Briean Boddy-Calhoun is third in the cornerback pecking order.

Haden, 28, had three seasons left on the five-year, $67.5 million contract extension he signed in May 2014. He had been scheduled to make $11.1 million this year and next year as well as $10.4 million in 2019.

The deal included $45 million guaranteed but had only $4 million guaranteed left on it, which the Browns would have been willing to eat in a trade, according to CBS. The contract also contained offset language, so the Steelers’ deal with Haden freed the Browns of owing him.

Haden spent the past seven seasons with the Browns after they drafted him out of the University of Florida. He made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014.

But he missed 11 games in 2015 with two concussions and other injuries, including one requiring ankle surgery during the 2016 offseason. Last year, he played nearly the entire season with groin injuries, missed three games and had offseason surgery on both groin muscles.

“Joe gave everything he had for the Cleveland Browns and that’s all you can ask for as a coach,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said in the release. “He was a leader on and off the field. I wish him all the best as he continues his career.”

A captain, Haden started 81 of the 90 games in which he appeared with the Browns and compiled 376 tackles, 101 passes defensed, 19 interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Last season, he tallied 48 tackles, 11 passes defensed and tied for a team-high three interceptions in 13 games.

Haden hails from Fort Washington, Md., but he fully embraced Cleveland, becoming a fixture at Cavaliers games and opening a shoe store downtown called the Restock. He hosted youth football camps in the area and donated to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. In 2015, he became the first professional football player to serve as a Special Olympics Global Ambassador.

“I would first like to take the time to thank the Browns fans all around the world from the bottom of my heart for making Cleveland a happy home for me the past 7 years,” Haden wrote in a statement he posted on Instagram. “I want to also thank my coaches, the organization and especially my teammates who have become family. My God doesn’t make mistakes and I know the future is bright.”

Thomas, the 10-time Pro Bowl selection, directed the following tweet at Haden: “You will truly be missed my man! You were always the consummate teammate, professional and friend. I wish you much success in the future.”

Although Haden’s production has dipped in recent years as he dealt with injuries, the Browns easily could have afforded to keep him. Before the move, they had $55.5 million in cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. So Haden’s release raised some eyebrows.

“Are the Browns in the business of winning games or accumulating draft picks every year?” former Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who spent four seasons with Haden in Cleveland, wrote on Twitter. “I’m confused by the release of [Haden].”

On the other hand, getting something for Erving, 25, seems like a coup.

After former Browns General Manager Ray Farmer drafted Erving, the franchise experimented with him at every position on the offensive line, whether in practice or games, desperately trying to find a way to salvage the first-round selection. He started 37 games at left tackle for Florida State University before moving to center for the final five games of his collegiate career. He has yet to impress at any position in the NFL.

Erving struggled mightily when he started four games at guard as a rookie. Then after four-time Pro Bowl selection Alex Mack signed with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency last year, Erving became the starting center. He didn’t perform well enough last season in 12 starts to keep the job.

The Browns moved Erving to right tackle for the 2016 regular-season finale and spent this offseason working with him at both tackle spots. However, he never could gain ground in a competition for the starting right tackle job, which is now held by 2016 third-round pick Shon Coleman. Erving also suffered a calf injury Aug. 15 and hasn’t practiced since.

The Browns secured a starting center this offseason by signing JC Tretter to a three-year, $16.75 million contract.

Erving has two years left on his rookie contract. He’s scheduled to make $1.29 million this year and $1.72 million next year with the Chiefs.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.