Champ Bailey: Best Landing Spots for Free-Agent Cornerback
It ain't easy being a veteran cornerback in today's NFL.
In the past week or so, a handful of veteran corners have been shown the door by their respective teams. The latest was Champ Bailey, released by the Denver Broncos on Thursday after 10 years with the team, according to ESPN.
On many levels, it was hardly a surprise. The 35-year-old played in only five regular-season games last year due to an injured foot, his last performance was a nightmarish showing against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII and the Broncos saved $10 million in cap space by cutting Bailey loose.
That didn't make the decision any easier for general manager John Elway. "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," Elway said. "You couldn't ask for more in a player than what Champ brought to this team."
Bailey, for his part, told Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today he has no plans to call it a career. "It sucks, but at the same time, I have to move on," Bailey said. "I can't dwell on it. I know they're not dwelling on it."
Bailey joins a crowded market in the defensive backfield, but luckily for those grizzled vets, there is also no shortage of teams that need help in that regard.
Here are a handful of the best fits.
It isn't hard to figure out why the Philadelphia Eagles might want to upgrade their secondary this offseason.
After all, the reigning NFC East champs ranked dead last in the NFL last year against the pass, allowing 289.8 yards per game during the regular season.
With that said, the Eagles are also in a position to do something about it. Philly has already locked up wideouts Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin and offensive tackle Jason Peters, so the Eagles can focus the majority of their $24 million in remaining cap space (per Over The Cap) on defense.
This isn't to say the Eagles should lob a big chunk of money at Bailey, who is well past his prime.
However, Bailey did rank among Pro Football Focus' top 10 cornerbacks (subscription required) during his last full season in 2012, and Lindsay H. Jones reports he has softened his stance on making the switch to safety.
The Eagles badly need help at both spots, and while Bailey may not be the impact player he once was, his veteran presence could easily help stabilize Philly's young defensive backfield.
Champ Bailey had publicly dismissed the idea of sliding to safety in recent years, but he told Jones it's a move he now realizes he may have no choice but to embrace.
"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."
If Bailey is truly open-minded about the move, it can only serve to increase the number of potential suitors for his services.
It could also portend a return home of sorts.
After winning 13 games in 2012, the 2013 season was a 12-loss, injury-filled train wreck for the Atlanta Falcons. Among their many problems was a pass defense that ranked 21st in the NFL.
The team has already shaken things up, jettisoning veteran cornerback Asante Samuel. Free safety Thomas DeCoud is expected to follow him out the door, per ESPN's Adam Caplan.
Some pundits have suggested the Falcons might make a run at free-agent safety Jairus Byrd, but as Vaughn McClure of ESPN points out, Byrd's contract may fall outside of Atlanta's price range.
That leaves more reasonably priced options, such as Bailey. The former Georgia star could also serve as a mentor to young cornerback Desmond Trufant, who was one of Atlanta's few bright spots on defense a year ago.
So far, we've been working under the assumption that Champ Bailey would place an increased priority on winning at this stage in his career. After finally getting to the Super Bowl last year and with the end of the line rapidly approaching, contenders would seem to have the inside track for Bailey's signature.
However, the interest from those teams may not be there. It's also possible that Bailey is just as interested in his financial future as he is in his athletic presence.
If that's the case, then teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars could be very much in the mix.
Cap space certainly isn't an issue. According to Spotrac, only one team in the NFL has more wiggle room than Jacksonville's $59.3 million.
Now, general manager David Caldwell has pledged since taking the job in Jacksonville that the Jaguars are going to eschew "big-splash" free agents in favor of building through the draft.
On some levels, it's worth it to the Jaguars to overpay Bailey for a couple of years.
The Jaguars tied for 25th in pass defense last year, and while there's some talent in Gus Bradley's secondary, their youth and inexperience showed in 2013.
Whether it's at free safety or cornerback, Bailey could serve as a sort of player/coach. The Jacksonville secondary isn't going to be any worse with Bailey on the field, and he'd be an invaluable source of knowledge to their young defensive backs off it.
Kansas City Chiefs
Bailey's comments in regards to his release were, as always, professional, but it didn't sound like he was smiling on the inside about getting a pink slip.
If Bailey feels slighted and wants a measure of revenge, it shouldn't be that hard to set in motion.
Every other team in the AFC West has a large hole at cornerback. The Oakland Raiders have more cap space than any team in the league.
However, if Bailey really wants to stick it to the Broncos, their rivals in Kansas City are the group to join.
For the first half of the 2013 season, the Chiefs were as good as any team in the NFL, especially on defense.
Over the latter portion of the year, it was a different story, culminating in the secondary's complete collapse in the second half of their playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
There's already been fallout from that free fall, with veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson becoming a cap casualty after one disastrous season in Kansas City.
The Chiefs have holes at nickel corner and free safety, but with only about $10 million in cap space, the money could be tricky.
With that said, the Chiefs could offer Bailey a chance to win, and even better, a chance to win twice a season—at the Broncos' expense.
We could list solid fits for Champ Bailey's services all day long.
We're talking about a 12-time Pro Bowler and probable future Hall of Famer. Even at much less than 100 percent, Bailey still has more than a little value, and if he's able to make the switch to safety a la Charles Woodson, there may even be a season as an impact starter left in the tank.
With that said, there's one team more than any other that sticks out as a great fit for Bailey. The Cincinnati Bengals can offer Bailey everything he wants, while Bailey in turn could be an important piece for a team with Super Bowl aspirations in 2014.
Mind you, Cincinnati's pass defense wasn't bad in 2013. In fact, the Bengals ranked fifth in the NFL in that regard.
However, with Leon Hall returning from yet another serious injury, Dre Kirkpatrick having yet to live up to his first-round billing and Terence Newman just as long in the tooth as Bailey, there's more than a little uncertainty in the Cincinnati secondary.
That's before taking into account the safety spots.
Bailey wouldn't necessarily even have to "start" for the Bengals, but it's not hard at all to see him in a sort of "rover" role, lining up anywhere from outside to the slot to free safety.
It's a role that would probably suit Bailey well at this point in his career.
It may not be the big move Bengals fans want the team to make with $27.5 million in cap space, but the frugal Bengals aren't going to shoot for the moon.
They have the space, though, and could offer Bailey one last run at that elusive Super Bowl ring.
Unless otherwise noted, salary cap information courtesy of Spotrac.com.
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