Less than a month after being released by the Denver Broncos, Cornerback Champ Bailey has made his first visit as an unrestricted free agent, stopping in New Orleans to meet with the Saints on Tuesday. This was Bailey's first known visit since his March 5th release.
Coming off an injury-riddled year in which he appeared in just 5 regular season games and failed to record an interception for the first time in his illustrious 15 year career as a pro, Bailey was cut in advance of a $1 million roster bonus due to him in March. This move saved Denver nearly $10 million against the salary cap, which helped provide some relief against the cap after they brought in DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib earlier in the month. Bailey's nagging foot injury surely played a part in his sub-par 2013 campaign, but closer examination shows that while ageing into this mid-30's, Bailey is not quite as injury prone as some may think.
You have to go back to the 2008 season to find a year in which the former Georgia Bulldog missed more than 3 regular season games. While he may no longer be the lockdown corner who shadows the opponent's best receiver every down, Bailey can still be effective, and would almost certainly be brought into a team like the Saints to play a less prominent role. This also means he would likely have to accept a cut-price deal to land with a contender like New Orleans, which would be a far cry from the $9 million base salary he was scheduled to earn in Denver in 2014.
Looking at the Saints' roster, there could easily be a fit for Bailey from a pure Football standpoint. While Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan installed a 3-4 scheme in his first season with the club, the Saints actually played plenty of 4-3 and 4-2-5 looks with multiple Safeties on the field at the same time. Bailey is said to be open to playing Safety at this stage of his career, and while the Saints have their Safety tandem of the future set up in Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro, the team could use Bailey for more than just depth. Champ Bailey has visited the Saints.
With Malcolm Jenkins now a Philadelphia Eagle, and Roman Harper in Carolina, the Saints could use additional depth behind Byrd and Vaccaro. Restricted free agent Rafael Bush has yet to sign his tender, and the team will not receive any compensation should he sign with another organization. Bailey could also provide depth at his natural position, Cornerback, after the Saints released Jabari Greer in February. Patrick Robinson is still rehabbing from a serious knee injury leaving Keenan Lewis and Corey White to man the corners. Bailey could see snaps at both Safety and corner, and could bump down inside on obvious passing downs.
An owner of 52 career interceptions and a number of electric plays, Bailey, a future Hall of Famer, may not have loads of gas left in the tank at this stage of his career, but could be a valuable signing to a team like the Saints in need of both depth and experience in the secondary. Should his health check out and the salary demands not be too steep, Bailey could latch on with a contender and make another run at the Super Bowl. With a bitter taste still in his mouth after the Broncos' public humiliation at the hands of the Seahawks in February, Bailey is surely motivated to land in the best possible situation to make such a run.
In 2009, the Saints brought in another veteran, Darren Sharper, to help shore up a pass defense that was often exposed and to provide the kind of leadership that could help move the team to the next level. The move paid dividends, as the Saints went on to win their first Lombardi Trophy with Sharper going on to make a giant impact. Bailey would not be counted on to play nearly as big a role as Sharper did during that magical season, but one would be hard pressed to find such a decorated player to provide depth and insurance on an improving defense.
Champ Bailey's market has been quiet since his release, with his age and questions about his foot likely playing a big part. But there is clearly still a want to carry on playing, and a team like New Orleans could provide him with everything he needs to chase another shot at a Super Bowl. The one clear variable will be his salary.
The Saints remain in a tight cap situation, with an eye on their incoming draft class and, perhaps, more moves in free agency on the horizon. General Manager Mickey Loomis has already shown creativity by finding a way to secure a deal for Jairus Byrd, while both Keenan Lewis and Pierre Thomas have restructured their deals to help provide some relief to the immediate cap situation. There could be more restructures or June cuts on the docket, but if Bailey is interested in joining the Saints, and the team is doing more than the average due dilligence on an available player, a deal could surely be worked out. Factoring in his age, Bailey would likely be subject to a short-term deal, anyway, which could be sensationalized into a multi-year deal via bonuses or backloaded salary.
Champ Bailey's highlight reel-producing Pro Bowl days may be in the rear view mirror, but a Super Bowl ring still looms large on his list of desires. If he can hammer out a deal with New Orleans, or any other realistic contender for that matter, 2014 will be a chance for him to get back on track, and remove that bitter taste from his mouth that still lingers from his last appearance on a Football field.