Champ Bailey says he still may not have peaked
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Champ Bailey has been a nine-time Pro Bowl selection at cornerback and was selected to the NFL’s all-decade team in the 2000s.
But Bailey has news for the rest of the league, even after 11 seasons.
“I don’t even know if I’ve peaked,” Bailey said this week as his Denver Broncos prepared for a trip to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars in the regular-season opener Sunday. “I’ve had to battle through some tough injuries. But physically and mentally, I’m better than I’ve ever been.”
The Broncos, at least to some degree, must believe there are better days ahead for their star defensive back. The team currently is involved in negotiations to extend Bailey’s current pact, which expires at season’s end.
It may not get done before Sunday but an eventual accord is anticipated, barring something unforeseen.
The Denver Post reported the deal likely will tack on four years through 2014.
Bailey essentially has played under the terms of the contract he signed upon his arrival in Denver via a trade in 2004, although there was a minor tweak the following year.
While Bailey no longer is the no-brainer pick as the NFL’s top cornerback, he remains in the conversation.
He didn’t have the statistical impact last year that he did during the 2005-06 seasons, when he picked off 18 passes and broke up 58 others. But he was a primary component in a defense that ranked No. 3 versus the pass, and teams simply stay away from him more these days.
“Last year I felt was one of my better years because I didn’t give up a touchdown, no real big plays or anything like that. I was more consistent than I’ve ever been,” Bailey said. “I didn’t get a bunch of picks, but you can’t really judge a corner off a bunch of picks. This year I’m trying to build off that and keep the same intensity.”
Bailey’s also thinking smaller these days.
He used to be more big-picture oriented but has since found that concentrating on the now is a better means to focus. So instead of being consumed by thoughts of whether he can play until he’s 40, or even setting individual interception goals, Bailey’s adopted tunnel vision for the Jaguars.
“Every year it seems like it gets simpler and simpler because I noticed how things can get away from you if you think so big,” he said. “If you don’t take care of the little things, your goals can just kind of vanish. So my goal is to take care of what’s in front of me. If I have to bump-and-run somebody, then I’m going to play the best bump-and-run coverage that I can, right then.”
That narrower focus can’t obscure the fact, though, that for all his accomplishments, Bailey has yet to play in a Super Bowl.
Asked if that was a significant hole in his resume, Bailey responded, “That’s a hole in my life.”
Over the cornerback’s last six-plus years in Denver, he’s appeared in only three postseason games. He may not pad those totals, since this year’s Broncos team is widely considered a long shot for the playoffs.
“I want people to see for themselves,” Bailey countered. “People will notice things they don’t expect. That’s what will be good about it. It’s going to be a surprise. And our play will speak for itself.”
What Bailey’s play has said about him is that he deserves to be considered among the all-time greats at his position, even without a ring.
His ninth Pro Bowl selection last January moved him into a tie with Mike Haynes for the most by a cornerback in history, ahead of Lemar Parrish and Deion Sanders. Only Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber (175) has started more games at corner than Bailey’s 166 since ’99. New Orleans’ Darren Sharper (61) is the lone player with more interceptions than Bailey’s 48 during that same span.
“It’s extremely valuable to have a corner that has the ability that Champ has. He’s done it for a long time,” Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said Friday.
“I kid him that we’ve turned him from an off-corner to a press corner in the last two years. He kind of chuckles about that because he can really do either. He just chose to do more of the other prior to last year. and I think it’s great to have a player like Champ that accepts that challenge.”