After 10 seasons, the Champ Bailey era in Denver is coming to an end.
According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, the Broncos have decided to cut the 35-year-old veteran cornerback in a move that will save them $10 million in cap space just six days before the start of free agency:
The Broncos will be releasing CB Champ Bailey, according to an NFL source. He was set to earn $9M this season with a cap # of $10M— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 6, 2014
Bailey's release does not come as a surprise, though the sides did discuss other alternatives. Denver creates $10M in cap room with the move— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 6, 2014
The Broncos confirmed the move on Thursday in a release on the team website. John Elway, general manager and executive VP of football operations, said:
This was a difficult decision for our team with everything that Champ Bailey has meant to the Denver Broncos and this community over the last 10 years. Without question, he’s among the best cornerbacks to ever play the game and one of the finest players in the history of the Broncos. You couldn’t ask for more in a player than what Champ brought to this team. His combination of elite talent, class, leadership and competitiveness made him one of the all-time greats.
On behalf of everyone with the Broncos, I wish Champ all the best and thank him for everything he did for this franchise. Champ will always be a Bronco. We look forward to his Ring of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame election in the years ahead.
Bailey, the seventh overall pick in the 1999 draft who was traded to Denver after five seasons with the Washington Redskins, enjoyed a tremendously productive career in the Mile High City. In 135 regular-season games, he recorded 34 interceptions, 123 pass deflections and 530 tackles, per Pro Football Reference.
Bailey spoke with Lindsay Jones of USA Today about the imminent news:
Champ Bailey: "It sucks, but at the same time, I have to move on. I can’t dwell on it. I know they’re not dwelling on it."— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) March 6, 2014
What's next for Champ Bailey? "I’m a corner at heart. If a situation made sense to play safety, then I would consider it," he said.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) March 6, 2014
Jones also reported that Bailey is open to new possibilities:
Bailey said he does not plan to retire and is looking forward to being a free agent for the first time in his career. He said he would like to continue playing cornerback, but he would consider a position change to safety.
"I just want to see what people will want me to do. My vision is to still play corner, but I'm a little more open-minded about the season I had last year." Bailey said. "I'm a corner at heart. If a situation made sense to play safety, then I would consider it."
While he appeared to have lost a step in 2013, ESPN's Cecil Lammey was quick to remind folks that Bailey, who played in just eight games (five regular season, three postseason) all year, was hindered by a nasty Lisfranc injury:
Champ Bailey is not the same player he used to be, but he battled a Lisfranc injury all yr long - he's better than what he showed in 2013— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) March 6, 2014
And as Cian Fahey added, Bailey was tremendous before his injury:
And he was very good in 2012 @cecillammey— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) March 6, 2014
Bailey has a lot of mileage on his 12-time Pro Bowl legs, but teams are always in need of depth in the secondary, and he's going to draw plenty of interest in the open market.
ESPN's Adam Schefter suggests the Atlanta Falcons as a potential suitor, pointing to a hometown pitch that may work on the 15-year vet:
CB Champ Bailey has no interest in retiring at this time, per source. Would make sense for Bailey to finish his career at home in Georgia.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 6, 2014
As for the Broncos, cornerback is clearly going to be a position of focus this offseason. With Bailey gone, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hitting free agency and Chris Harris recovering from ACL surgery, there aren't a whole lot of known entities on the outside of that defense.
Would you want your team to sign Bailey?
Names such as Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner and Vontae Davis will pique Denver's interest in free agency, but Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio suggests another route, reporting that the Broncos could replace one No. 24 with another and trade for Tampa Bay Buccaneers shutdown corner Darrelle Revis.
No matter what happens, though, the left side of Denver's secondary is going to have a different look for the first time in a decade.