It’s been nearly three years since the trade that brought Champ Bailey to Denver as part of a deal that shipped Clinton Portis to the Washington Redskins in what was the NFL’s first trade of current Pro Bowlers in three decades, and for the Broncos, the verdict couldn’t be much better.
While Portis was prolific in orange and blue, the Broncos got a player that has become the league’s best at his position. Three seasons in Denver … three Pro Bowl bids … three first-team All-Pro selections … and more interceptions than anyone else in the sport in those years, with 21, some three better than the second-best on the list (Jacksonville’s Rashean Mathis).
Twenty-one interceptions in a league increasingly geared towards low-risk, precision passing is an impressive total under any circumstance. But when factoring teams’ general resistance to throwing in his direction, it becomes downright remarkable.
“Everyone tries to never allow him to have an impact on the game,” safety John Lynch said. “Then he finds a way each and every day to have an impact on the game.”
“Sooner or later they’re going to quit throwing in his direction,” Head Coach Mike Shanahan said. “I wouldn’t advise throwing over there, but it’s really amazing when you look at the percentage of balls that have been thrown in his direction how many he has come up with. It’s a credit to his preparation and obviously the type of athlete he is.”
Bailey’s athleticism caused the Broncos to take a look at him on offense during his first Denver training camp and again early in the regular season that followed. And while he still speaks of a desire to try his skills on offense, he still managed to get his hands on the football more than any other defensive back in the game this season.
It wasn’t enough to earn him plaudits as the league’s defensive player of the year. It was enough for his teammates to sternly advocate his selection for the award — with none doing so more passionately than offensive captain Rod Smith.
“Definitely. No doubt,” Smith said when asked whether Bailey should have won the award that eventually went to Miami’s Jason Taylor. “Just look at what he does on the football field — he can shut a whole side down. When you have a team that doesn’t even look at throwing the football over there — and then when they do it, (it’s) by mistake — he ends up taking it back the other way.
“I mean, I’ve never played with a better football player, I don’t believe. I played with John Elway, and he’s a legend, he’s great, (so) I’ll exclude him. But everybody else I’ve ever played with, I’ve never seen anybody else like him. I call him ‘The Jedi,’ actually. I think he’s Yoda’s son because he knows where the hell the ball’s going before they even throw it, and he just runs over there and I’m like, ‘Dude, that’s not your guy.’
“Honestly, I really appreciate the opportunity to get to play with that kind of greatness. He’s not good, by no means; he passed good a long time ago, before he ever came to the Broncos. The people who vote on that (defensive player of the year) — I don’t know who votes.
“I don’t know if you have a vote (I don’t, sadly), but you’ve got to look at all the things he does for our football team and how he can take another team and make them change everything they do. That, to me, is the defensive player of the year, and at the same time, he’s turned games around and helped us win games very quickly. Like I say, he’s an amazing athlete, and he’s a great person, just the character of Champ is probably more impressive than his athletic ability, and he’s probably got more athletic ability than pretty much anybody on this planet. I just hope he gets what’s due to him, because he’s worked his butt off and he deserves it.”
FINAL ANALYSIS: Tied for the league’s lead in interceptions (10) … Played in all 16 games for the seventh time in eight NFL seasons; a nagging hamstring injury was the culprit in the only two games he ever sat out, both of which came in 2005 … Credited with 98 total tackles, 14 better than his previous career standard of 84 established in 2002 with the Redskins and matched two years later … His fumble recovery against Cincinnati on Dec. 24 was his first since joining the Broncos … Broke up a career-high 30 passes.
NEXT: Tailback Mike Bell.