WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Champ Bailey knows why he’s here.
And it’s not his NFL paycheck.
“Getting a (Super Bowl) ring — that’s it,” Bailey, a future Fall of Fame cornerback, said after Friday morning’s opening session of Saints training camp at The Greenbrier.
“There’s nothing else keeping me out here. It ain’t like they’re paying me a boatload of money around here.”
No, Bailey is here to win what he didn’t win in Washington (1999-2003) and Denver (2004-13). Close proved to not be close enough.
That’s why Bailey, 36, covets what could be his last shot at a Lombardi Trophy — a feat that would offer a fitting, final bullet point to his playing portfolio as one of this generation’s top shutdown corners.
It’s too early to predict that these Saints will reach such a mark, Bailey said. Yet his presence on the practice field entering his 16th season speaks to his belief in the Saints, his belief in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
His belief that with the help of talented teammates, he can make last season’s fourth-ranked defense even better. Bailey’s 52 career interceptions are the most among active NFL cornerbacks. He’s also a 12-time Pro Bowler.
Bailey, stoic and smooth, speaks with poise, like he’s answered these questions before.
Because he has. Name an NFL defense, even an offense, and he’s played in it or against it. So deep into his career, football is football. Either you’ve got it or you don’t.
“And I feel like I still got it,” Bailey said. “I can fit myself into this team, however they need me to.”
Coach Sean Payton said Thursday he has an understanding of how he wants to utilize Bailey this season, his first with the Saints.
“I have a pretty good vision for what he can do for us, and I think that has been communicated. And I think he’s real anxious to do that,” Payton said.
As long as it involves winning.
This summer marks a stark contrast to Bailey’s final season in Denver, a campaign muddied by a foot injury that limited him to five games, including three starts — both career lows.
Yet he stayed on the active roster, hoping to contribute to a postseason ride to Super Bowl XLVIII with Peyton Manning. Though the Broncos made the trip, they left the game on the wrong end of a 43-8 rout, thanks to the Seattle Seahawks.
Suddenly, Bailey’s final postseason performances of the 2012 and 2013 seasons were under criticism. Suddenly, he had lost his “shutdown” status. Still respected, but no longer feared.
Bailey knew this day would come — a day when his game would no longer be where it used to be.
“I’m OK with it,” he said. “I don’t need anybody to tell me I’m great,” he said. “All I need to do is please the guys I’m playing with.”
This offseason, Bailey signed a two-year deal with the Saints worth as much as $7 million with incentives. He’s slotted to start opposite Keenan Lewis, although fifth-year pro Patrick Robinson is expected to make a push for playing time.
The older Bailey has gotten, the more aware he’s become of his health, making sure he takes better care of his body, from dry needling to stretching.
Really, Bailey added, the only time he’s reminded about his health is when he fields questions from the public and media. He’s too busy working on his future to bother with the past.
“I’m not looking back,” he said. “I’ve got one thing to do. That’s get better and help this team win a championship. That’s all I’m focused on.”