Dec 22, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24) warms up before the game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
People, let’s be real for just one second. When anyone talks about Champ Bailey these days, there are two things that stick out that no one seems to want to let go. The focal point of any debate with Champ Bailey centers around two plays in which Bailey has been labeled ‘washed up’, ‘too old’, or ‘past his prime’.
Jan 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith (82) catches a pass for a touchdown under pressure from Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24) in the second quarter during the AFC divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89)] hauls in a pass as Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24) closes in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Looks familiar, right? While there may be validity to your claim, I’m here to tell you that Champ Bailey is not just another washed up veteran who is past his prime.
Champ Bailey debuted in the NFL in 1999, where he was drafted by the Washington Redskins as the #7 overall pick. Bailey would play five seasons with the team, before being traded to the Broncos in 2004 along with a second round pick (which ending up becoming running back Tatum Bell) for Clinton Portis. While spending the past ten seasons with the Denver Broncos, Bailey would continue to earn multiple awards and honors. His track record is astounding to say the very least.
As one of the final remnants of the 1990s player era, Bailey isn’t done with football, and he can still play. Speaking of the 90s era, would you believe there is less than ten active players left? Along with Bailey, kickers Phil Dawson, David Akers, Adam Vinatieri, punter Brian Moorman, cornerback Charles Woodson, and quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Peyton Manning are all that remain from most of my generation that grew up as an 80s/90s kid.
Here’s some things to consider for the doubters and naysayers as to why having Champ Bailey as a member of the New Orleans Saints could be viewed as a perfect match.
Mentorship & Leadership
During the early seasons of his career, Bailey had the luxury of learning from Hall of Fame veteran cornerbacks Deion Sanders and Darrell Green. Since then, Bailey has seen it all. The evolution of the game has made Bailey change styles in how he defends, and throughout all of it, Bailey has remained on top. While the Saints departed ways with their long-time veteran quartet of Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, and Jabari Greer on defense, Bailey will bring a different vision of leadership to New Orleans.
Aside from Keenan Lewis (27) and Patrick Robinson (26), all of the Saints defensive backs are 25 years old or younger. So, for those players: Corey White, Derrius Brooks, A.J. Davis, Terrence Frederick, Rod Sweeting, and Trevin Wade, this is going to be a once in a lifetime chance to learn from one of the league’s best cornerbacks to ever play the game. Let’s also not forget that this will help the other members of the secondary that line up at safety: Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and Marcus Harris.
"“I’m looking forward to it because Keenan Lewis is still a relatively young corner, especially compared to me. Just the things I can help him with, the things that we can help each other with, and all the young guys that are behind him. I want to go in and help those guys as much as possible but also take as much from them as I can. I don’t think I know everything, but I’m going out there to compete for a starting job and help this team be the best it can be.” –Champ Bailey"
Rob Ryan is not Jack Del Rio. Take that statement however you wish, but understand that Ryan is going to use a player where they are best suited. I personally believe Del Rio runs a great scheme, but Ryan is heralded for bringing the most out of his players, and it has transpired throughout his career. Ryan can use Bailey in multiple ways, and whether he is the starter opposite of Keenan Lewis, a nickel cornerback jamming the slot, or a hybrid role of safety/corner, Bailey will make an impact.
Just think about this for just a second. You are facing the pressure of Rob Ryan’s defensive front seven: Cameron Jordan, Brodrick Bunkley, Akiem Hicks, Junior Galette, Victor Butler/Parys Haralson, Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, and you are tasked with having to throw on Keenan Lewis, Kenny Vaccaro, Jairus Byrd, and Champ Bailey. I don’t know about you, but I’m not feeling so great about my chances.
You’d think that throwing on Bailey would be the easiest thing, but when he has the support of the two safeties, it certainly will make a quarterback think twice.
Bailey is ready to tackle whatever comes his way. Just take a look at his words about the organization:
"“I played in the Super Bowl, probably was the biggest game of my life, but we came up short and I’m still hungry. I’ve still got that drive to go out there and be the best and that’s why I’m still putting them on, and the Saints gave me an opportunity, I’m going to try to be a part of something special.” -Champ Bailey“They want to win,” Bailey said. “They’re two coaches that are very competitive. You can see that when you watch them, you can hear it when you talk to them and I want that fire in my coaches because it’s burning inside of me, and I’m sure as well as every player in that locker room. We’re all on the same page and we all have the same goal in mind and that’s to win a championship.“(The Saints) are very close (to a championship). You look at, Coach Payton took a year off, came back and they got in the playoffs, and won a game. They’re very close. I think any time you have a guy like Drew Brees calling the shots on offense, you’re always going to have a shot."
Okay, I get it. Champ Bailey had a foot injury during 2013, and that hindered his production. However, do we just automatically assume that that’s the player the Saints get in 2014? In 2012, Bailey was astounding in coverage, and while many may look at interceptions as the end all, be all for measuring player success, the proof lies within how well he fared in man coverage. One of ESPN’s scout insiders, KC Joyner, said that Bailey allowed nine completions on eleven attempts for 1-on-1 coverage. He surrendered 123 yards, and rated among the top 25 in the league. Most everything about Bailey was amazing until the Torrey Smith play.
Prior to the 2013 season, Bailey ranked as the #4 cornerback in the last five years as per Pro Football Focus. He was beat out by Darrelle Revis, Charles Woodson, and Brandon Flowers. He seems to be in good company.
Champ Bailey went to his first Super Bowl last season, and while it took him 15 seasons to do so, it is a feeling that Bailey won’t ever forget. The Saints are poised to be a contender, and while they fell short in 2013, it was a tremendous rebound from a very disappointing losing season in 2012. The clock is ticking for Drew Brees, and general manager Mickey Loomis looks as though he is doing everything he can to give Brees the tools to succeed.
Will Bailey be beaten in coverage? Sure. Doesn’t everyone have their moments at some point in time? Is Bailey potentially an injury risk? Absolutely. However, the Saints are all to familiar with that as it is.
The bottom line? Don’t discount Champ Bailey, but if you still do, look to change your tune during the 2014 season.
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