Champ Bailey calls it a career

ByJeff Legwold ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Throughout his NFL career Champ Bailey always said there would be a day when he "would look in the mirror, look at the film, and decide it was time to move on."

That day has come as the 12-time Pro Bowl selection announced his retirement Tuesday to close a 15-year NFL career that is expected to land him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I've had time to think about it, have thought about it the last couple months, ever since things didn't work out with the Saints," Bailey said by phone Tuesday. " ... There are other opportunities out there for me. I never wanted to move on and regret it so I wanted to make sure I was comfortable with the decision and I'm comfortable with the decision.

"It was good for me to sit out these last few weeks, I know how it's going to be for me to sit on the couch and watch football. I've been out on the field the last 15 years and I now I'm content with being a spectator."

Bailey played 10 seasons with the Denver Broncos following five with the Washington Redskins, who had made Bailey the seventh pick of the 1999 draft. Bailey played 215 regular-season games in his career, starting 207, and finished with 52 career interceptions.

That interception total includes 10 in 2006, a year in which many in the league believed Bailey should have been the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, and his two-year total of 18 interceptions in the 2005-06 seasons combined.

Bailey's 12 Pro Bowl selections are the most-ever by a cornerback, tied for the most ever, with Hall of Famer Ken Houston, by a defensive back and tied for second all-time among all defensive players. Only Reggie White and Ray Lewis, each with 13 Pro Bowl selections, had more on the defensive side of the ball.

"I had already wrapped my head around the decision for about the last month that I probably would not go back out on the field," Bailey said. "When I started turning down people who wanted me to come in for a workout, then I knew I was sure. I thought then I better tell people where I'm coming from and let them understand why I'm turning them down. I'm moving on."

Bailey said there were "some TV opportunities I'm looking at," to begin his life after football and added his family was "ecstatic" about the decision to retire and the start of the next chapter.

"I can move on, be content and live a happy life," Bailey said. "I'm mot pressed to do anything, but I want to do something, but I feel great. There are some little things, my foot still bothers me, my elbow bothers me, my knees bother me, never had knee surgery, but the hinges are going to be like that. Shoulders bother me, but I can do everything I want to do, I can lift my 4-year-old over my head, I can run, I can work out."

Former Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer once said what separated Bailey most from others who excelled at the position was Bailey's ability and willingness to not only be a shut-down player in pass coverage, but that Bailey was "an elite tackler, not good, not great, but an elite tackler in the run game."

Bailey arrived to the Broncos in perhaps what was one of the last of the blockbuster trades -- Pro Bowl player for Pro Bowl player -- in 2004 when then-Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan sent running back Clinton Portis to the Redskins in exchange for Bailey and a second-round draft pick.

The Broncos used that draft pick on running back Tatum Bell, who had one 1,000-yard rushing season for the team and Bailey went on to be the cornerstone player Shanahan hoped he could be.

Bailey was named to eight Pro Bowls with the Broncos and played in the AFC Championship Game following the 2005 season -- that loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was routinely what Bailey called one "of the most disappointing days of my career because we had it all right there and we didn't show up" -- and his only Super Bowl appearance came in what was his last NFL game this past February in the Broncos 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in MetLife Stadium.

"I've always wanted to win a Super Bowl, that's the only thing lingering out there," Bailey said. "I can't be disappointed with the way my career went personally, but I wish I would have gotten a ring, but I can still be happy and smile about my career."

Bailey played just five games in the 2013 regular season because of a left foot injury he had suffered in a preseason loss to the Seahawks. When he did return to the lineup, Bailey played largely in the slot, a departure from his role for so many seasons with the team.

The Broncos, without offering Bailey a chance to re-negotiate the final year of his contract or discuss a possible position move, released Bailey just four weeks after the title game.

Tuesday, in a statement, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said; "I congratulate Champ on his Hall of Fame career. Not many had better careers than Champ Bailey, and I bet when he looks back on his he will be able to say he put everything he had into it."

Bailey was with the New Orleans Saints in training camp this past summer, but was released before the start of the regular season. He had a workout for the Detroit Lions as well, but was not signed while Reale said there had been interest from some other teams.

Earlier this season Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was asked how often he applied something he learned from Bailey and Harris Jr. said; "Every day, every game. It was a privilege to sit next to him, to practice next to him, to learn from him. He's a big part of the reason I'm here now. We all couldn't do what Champ could do, but we all could learn from what he knew."

Tuesday, asked if there was any play, any game, he wanted to be remembered for, Bailey took a big-picture approach.

"Just a body of work," Bailey said. "People pick games, the three interception game as a rookie, the playoff game against the Patriots, I let everybody pick their own and express them to me. For me it's just a body of work, some of my best games I didn't have any break-ups or interceptions."

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