Champ Bailey doesn’t want to prove anything to anyone except these few people: his new Saints teammates and himself.
If he does that, he’ll fight to be a first-string cornerback and carve out a valuable niche on a team he joined because he thinks he can help it win a Super Bowl, he said Tuesday before the Zurich Classic Capital One Bank Celebrity Shootout at the Tournament Players Club in Avondale.
If Bailey and the Saints were to win a world championship, it would be the first of his long, distinguished career.
“I’m sure I’ll be able to compete for a starting spot, just like everybody on this team,” said Bailey, who earlier in April signed a two-year, free-agent deal with the Saints that reportedly guaranteed him only $500,000 but was loaded with millions of dollars in performance incentives.
“That’s our big goal. My thing is to find my place on this team ... and just play to the best of my abilities.”
If Bailey succeeds at doing that, he’ll emerge as a steal of an acquisition for the Saints. His 52 career regular-season interceptions are the third-most among active NFL players. The potential Hall of Famer has been to more Pro Bowls (12) than all but a handful of players throughout league history.
The Saints, at their best, were an equally impressive proposition to Bailey. With Drew Brees at quarterback and Sean Payton as coach for the past eight seasons, the Saints have won a Super Bowl, been to two conference championships and qualified for the playoffs five times.
“The Saints made a good offer before anybody else did,” said Bailey, whose given first name is Roland. “I didn’t want to be out taking a bunch of offers. ... I just wanted to go ahead and make it happen.”
But the 6-foot, 192-pound Bailey has since heard the doubts.
He’s going to turn 36 in June as he heads into his 16th NFL season. He’s coming off the worst campaign of his career after a foot injury limited him to eight games with Denver in 2013, three of which were in the playoffs and included the Broncos’ loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl.
Some have loudly questioned whether Bailey has many on-field contributions to offer to a defense that surrendered the fourth-fewest yards and was second against the pass last year as the Saints won 12 of 18 games and reached the divisional round of the playoffs.
Some have speculated that he’s being brought in to provide guidance and leadership to the other members of the defensive backfield on the expanded offseason roster, who all have varying degrees of experience but are all younger: cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Corey White, Patrick Robinson, Rod Sweeting, Trevin Wade, Terrence Frederick and A.J. Davis; as well as safeties Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush and Marcus Ball.
“That comes with the business, you know?” Bailey said about the doubters. “People are always going to doubt you. You have one hiccup, and you’re just not the same.”
However, the opinions of outsiders do not perturb Bailey.
“My thing is to go out there and play the best I can,” he said. “I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody but myself and my teammates. That’s all I’ve got to do.”