Cornerback Champ Bailey will make his first-ever trip to the Super Bowl when the Denver Broncos travel to East Rutherford, N.J., to take on the Seattle Seahawks. It’s been a long time coming for the 15-year veteran, who has now been to the playoffs six times.
With a cap number of $10 million in 2014, according to Spotrac, and a diminished role after returning from a foot injury this season, the Super Bowl could be Bailey’s last game in a Broncos uniform. He only played five regular-season games in 2013, and the team even drafted his potential replacement in third-round cornerback Kayvon Webster.
Only a handful of corners have ever played a full season in the NFL at age 36 or older (see chart below), and Bailey will turn 36 on June 22. He knows his career is winding down, but he's still been a mentor for Webster, as the 22-year-old told Bleacher Report during the offseason.
If Bailey wins a Super Bowl ring, it would make sense for him to go out on top. He doesn’t need the distinction to cement his legacy like a quarterback might, but the win would be an appropriate ending.
Unless Bailey accepts a diminished role and a large pay cut, he’s not going to find many teams interested in his services. Bailey is a starter again because cornerback Chris Harris Jr. tore his ACL in the divisional round against the San Diego Chargers. Perhaps, starting and winning the big game will be enough for the 12-time Pro Bowler.
|Player||Games at CB||Championships Won at Age 36+||Games as S|
Only Bailey's mentor, Darrell Green, has truly defied the age odds at the position, which speaks to how difficult it is to play past age 36. Wide receivers have only gotten bigger, faster and stronger in the last 15 years as well.
Charles Woodson and Ronde Barber draw some similarities to Bailey. Woodson was a cornerback until 35, when he moved to safety for the past two seasons. Barber made it to age 36 as a corner, and he played as a safety in his last year with Tampa Bay.
In his prime, Bailey was the best cornerback in the league. He was named first-team All-Pro three times from 2004-2006 and was a second-teamer in 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2012. With a Super Bowl ring, there’s not much left for Bailey to accomplish.
A Lasting Legacy
Early in Bailey’s career, Darrell Green took him under his wing. Bailey was obviously very talented, but Green taught him how to be a good pro. At 18 years his senior, you might say Green was Bailey’s football father.
“I had him my first three years or so (actually four), and he just kind of told me what it was all about as far as covering and keeping your body healthy,” Bailey said about Green prior to the season. “He was in his 17th or 18th season, telling me little things about how to prepare and how to get warmed up."
“I learned a lot of that stuff from him, and I think that’s why I’ve been able to play as long as I have at a high level, because of the things he taught me.”
With Green’s assistance, Bailey matured quickly into one of the league’s premier cornerbacks. He now has 52 career interceptions and a number of memorable moments.
His high point came during the 2006 divisional round. He intercepted New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and returned it 99 yards. The momentum-shifting pick led to Bailey's first playoff victory.
Bailey, like Green, takes his role as a mentor seriously.
“It kind of happens naturally,” Bailey said about mentoring younger players. “It’s not something I asked for, but it’s a natural thing that progresses once you get older. You want to be able to pass it along, and you want to see this league in good hands.”
Should Champ Bailey retire if the Broncos win the Super Bowl?
Bailey’s legacy is about more than interceptions and Super Bowls—it’s about relationships. He wants to leave a lasting impact on people so he won’t just become a number.
“I want to be able to look back and say that I helped that guy, and then maybe he can pass it along to a younger guy when he’s older. That’s really what it’s all about.”
Winning the Super Bowl might not be that important for Bailey’s legacy, but the Broncos set expectations high for a reason. He knew it would take more than just having Peyton Manning on his side.
“Every team is going to have to deal with something along the way,” Bailey said during training camp. “The best team is going to win in the end—that’s the team that is most prepared, clicking at the right time with all their pieces on the same page. That’s usually what a champion ends up looking like in the end.”
Bailey has had to overcome injury this season, but he’s endured. Brady avoided Bailey in the AFC Championship Game, and the defense is clicking.
Perhaps, there is still a little kick left in Bailey’s legs. Maybe just enough to push him to the next chapter.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com. All quotes obtained firsthand.