DENVER — Former teammate Brian Dawkins called Champ Bailey “a great conserver of energy,” a rare superstar who was never in a rush to get anywhere “unless it was on a football field.”
In that dawdling, you can count retirement.
That finally came Tuesday, 60 days after Bailey was released by the Saints when a nagging foot injury prevented him from displaying the speed and skills that led to his cornerback-record dozen Pro Bowl berths in Washington and Denver. He had workouts with the Lions and Ravens and interest from other teams but decided to pursue a new chapter, possibly in broadcasting.
“Every professional athlete knows and understands that at some point his career will end and it will be time to move on to another phase in life. For me, that time is now,” Bailey said in a statement released by the Broncos, for whom he played from 2004-13.
“I have been truly blessed. I have been able to play this NFL game I love for 15 seasons and yet, it seems like only yesterday that my dreams came true when I received the call from Charley Casserly letting me know the Redskins had made me their first pick in the 1999 draft,” Bailey said.
The seventh overall pick that year, the University of Georgia star spent five seasons in Washington before the Broncos traded star running back Clinton Portis to the Redskins for the game’s premier shutdown cornerback.
Bailey was the most decorated defender in franchise history with eight Pro Bowl berths while with the Broncos.
When GM John Elway returned to his beloved franchise, his first order of business was signing Bailey to an extension.
“Champ was the pillar in this organization for a long, long time,” Elway said. “He brought great stability to the Broncos not only as a player but as a person through his ability and leadership. When I came here in 2011, he was the guy that we were going to build around and we were fortunate to have him for three more years to get this team back on track. He was a big part of that turnaround.”
Peyton Manning paid him the ultimate compliment, saying Bailey “had unbelievable cover skills and unbelievable ball skills.
“He caught the ball like a wide receiver did. Going all the way back to my days playing against him in college, he was truly a great competitor with talent and work ethic. That’s what made Champ such an incredible player.”
Bailey took many a young cornerback under his wing, among them Chris Harris Jr, who tweeted, “Blessed to be able to learn and play opposite Champ for 3 years,” and added the hashtags HOF and TBE for the surefire Hall of Famer.
Although quarterbacks usually avoided throwing in his direction, Bailey still found a way to get involved and make an impact. He had 52 interceptions, more than any active cornerback. He prided himself on his technique and tackling abilities. In 215 regular season games, Bailey had 983 tackles, three sacks, nine forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
“The thing about Champ was he had great ability as a shutdown corner while also not being afraid to stick his nose in there and be a part of the run game,” Elway said. “He was a complete corner with tremendous toughness and ability to cover.”
About the only thing that eluded Bailey in his stellar career was a Super Bowl ring.
The closest he came was the Broncos’ trip to the Meadowlands in February when they were blown out by Seattle.
With a $10 million salary looming for this season, the Broncos released him in March after Bailey decided he wanted to give a 16th season a try. He later signed with the Saints, but the left foot injury that sidelined him for 11 games last season continued to bother him during training camp and for the first time in his life he didn’t make the cut.
His last NFL season was a bittersweet one, missing 11 games with the foot injury before returning to action down the stretch and finally getting to play in a Super Bowl, which proved both the apex and nadir of his career.
“He had a significant part to do with them getting there based on his play in the AFC championship, where he gave up one pass for 4 yards on one foot,” said his agent, Jack Reale. “He has a tremendous amount to be proud of and really tried to get it done last year when lesser players wouldn’t have even tried.”
It’s a safe bet Bailey will end up talking football now that he’s done playing it.
“Media makes a lot of sense for a guy like him,” Reale said.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton