DENVER (AP) — Champ Bailey spent a decade with the Denver Broncos, making eight Pro Bowls and picking off 34 passes even with quarterbacks only reluctantly glancing his way.
This number was hard to overlook: $10 million.
In a salary-cap move Thursday, the Broncos released Bailey, the team’s defensive leader who’s been a fan favorite since he was acquired in a trade with Washington in 2004.
There’s simply no room for loyalty in the NFL, especially with free agency about to start and with holes needing to be filled, something that became apparent to the Broncos after a 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl last month.
Broncos boss John Elway called the decision to release Bailey a “difficult” one given all that the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback has brought to the team over his 10 seasons in the Mile High City.
“Without question, he’s among the best cornerbacks to ever play the game and one of the finest players in the history of the Broncos,” Elway said in a statement. “You couldn’t ask for more in a player than what Champ brought to this team. His combination of elite talent, class, leadership and competitiveness made him one of the all-time greats.”
But age and injuries had begun to catch up with one of the best shutdown cornerbacks to play the game. Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler overall, is scheduled to make around $10 million next season, which is a lot of money for a cornerback who may be asked to switch to safety or possibly inside to the slot position.
This was a hard season for the 35-year-old Bailey as he missed 11 games because of a nagging left foot sprain originally suffered in the preseason on Aug. 17 in Seattle. Only later did Bailey reveal he sustained a Lisfranc injury, which usually involves a separation of ligaments and joints in the foot and requires an arduous rehab.
He returned late in the season to help the Broncos advance to the Super Bowl, but wasn’t back to his old form — the form that had QBs scanning everywhere but his direction.
In his prime, Bailey wasn’t always very busy because opponents simply picked on his counterpart. And yet he still has 52 career interceptions, the most among active cornerbacks.
“I consider it a privilege to have coached Champ these last three years,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “There’s no doubt he played an integral role in establishing a culture of winning here.
“Aside from his natural ability, Champ set a great example with his hard work and relentless commitment to mastering his craft.”