Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Champ Bailey was once the top shut-down cornerback in the NFL. Now, he’s been shut down by the Broncos.
It seemed like this day would never come for the greatest corner to ever play the game, being named to an NFL-record 12 Pro Bowls in his 15-year career.
Many Denver Broncos fans are sad to see Champ cut but the sad truth is he is now a shadow of his former self.
At 35 years old, the game has passed Bailey by like so many younger, faster wide receivers as of late. And his $10 million salary cap number was astronomical for a player in decline.
Bye, bye Bailey.
But Broncos fans shouldn’t be distraught, they should consider themselves lucky to have the opportunity to watch one of the most dominant defenders in the history of Denver football.
It was a stroke of sheer luck – or maybe a stroke of genius by Mike “The Mastermind” Shanahan – to trade Clinton Portis in his prime for Champ, one of the few blockbuster trades the Broncos have ever been a part of.
And Champ was certainly in his prime, too; from 2004-2007 he built his own legacy by stealing the ball and simultaneously robbing opponents of their hope to win. Over those four years he averaged 78.5 tackles, 12 passes defended and six interceptions per season. His 10 picks in 2006 were a career-high and that season is when Bailey taught opposing quarterbacks it was better to just attack the other side of the field.
When Champ was atop his game, he took away the other team’s No. 1 receiver, game after game after game.
Probably his most memorable play in orange and blue came during this time, his 100-yard pick of Tom Brady in the AFC Divisional round game in early 2006 was oh, so close to being a touchdown.
In fact, looking back on it, that play is a microcosm of Champ Bailey’s career. As Brady was rushed and forced to roll-out, Bailey jumped in front of Troy Brown to pick the ball off in the end zone, a great play on the ball indeed. He took off, running down the sideline as fast as possible, stepping out of one tackle as he looked to score a massive touchdown in the biggest game of his life.
Then, never giving up, Ben Watson ran Bailey down at the one yard line. Oh, so close.
Though the Broncos won that game and went on to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship the next week, Denver lost and Bailey lost out on a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
This season seemed to be destiny for him; Champ would finally become a champion as part of the 2013 Denver Broncos.
But, unlike in 2005 when Bailey was one of the most vital players on the team, Champ was carried by the younger, healthier teammates to the Super Bowl. He played in only five regular season games due to multiple leg injuries, and even though he was counted on in the playoffs, Champ was more like a chump. In Super Bowl XLVIII he was burned by Doug Baldwin for a 37-yard pass play and gave up other receptions as well. The Broncos didn’t lose because of Bailey, but he didn’t exactly help the cause, either.
Will he go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game? Yes. Is he a first ballot Hall of Famer? No doubt. Was it sad to see Champ leave the Broncos and not become a champion? Certainly.
But should Broncos fans be sad the team shut down the corner? No way.
It’s time for Denver to move on, to move forward, and cutting Champ set them up with $28 million to spend in free agency. One of the first things John Elway can do with the surplus of cash is pay Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, then hope he can continue as Denver’s new shut-down corner. They could also re-sign Chris Harris, who’s a restricted free agent and has recently emerged as a talented DB.
Who they sign next is up in the air like a floating football, but if they learned anything from Seattle, it’s that you can never have too many talented corners.
Like this? Click here for the top 5 best replacements for Champ Bailey.