NFL Nation: Champ Bailey

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- One of the most compelling players to watch during the New Orleans Saints’ training camp will be newly-signed cornerback Champ Bailey.

Naturally, there are questions about how much the 12-time Pro Bowler and likely Hall of Famer has left in the tank. But the Saints clearly had a vision for how the 36-year-old can aid their deep and versatile defense. And Bailey has a great shot at winning a starting job this summer.

As for what exactly the Saints need to see from Bailey during training camp and the preseason, Coach Sean Payton pulled out a classic line from his mentor Bill Parcells -- as he often likes to do.

“Bill used to say this and every once in a while I’ll reference Parcells, ‘With a player like Champ we don’t need to see it every day, we just need to see it once in a while,’” Payton said. “He used to say that, it made sense. So that’s being smart, with the conditioning test, for instance, or it’s being smart with how we practice him.

“But I have a pretty good vision for what I think he can do for us, and I think that’s been communicated. And I think he’s really anxious to do that.”
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NFL Nation's Mike Triplett examines the three biggest issues facing the New Orleans Saints heading into training camp.

Offensive line: After ranking among the NFL’s elite units for half a decade, the Saints’ offensive line has suddenly become one of the team’s biggest question marks. It still has a chance to be one of New Orleans’ strengths -- led by Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and veteran right tackle Zach Strief -- but the Saints need to clean up the inconsistency they displayed up front last season while also breaking in two new full-time starters at left tackle and center. The line is the key to the Saints’ two biggest priorities on offense this season: running the ball with more consistency and giving Drew Brees time to hit some more explosive plays down the field.

The good news is there’s plenty of reason for optimism: Second-year left tackle Terron Armstead has the potential to be a great player; the Saints have two strong candidates for the center job in youngster Tim Lelito and veteran Jonathan Goodwin; and the line was playing terrific by the end of last season. This was especially true during the playoffs after Strief said they got better at identifying their strengths and weaknesses. They need that progress to continue.

Cornerback: The Saints might be building the NFL’s best secondary east of Seattle, led by young stars such as cornerback Keenan Lewis, safety Kenny Vaccaro and newly signed safety Jairus Byrd. However, they need to find out which other cornerbacks they can rely on among a group loaded with both talent and question marks. None of the candidates are sure things. But with so many options, one or two of them are bound to emerge.

The most intriguing is probably future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, whom the Saints signed in free agency in hopes that he still has a standout season left in him. Third-year pro Corey White has shown promise, but also some growing pains, so far. Former first-round draft pick Patrick Robinson had a great start to his career but needs to bounce back from his 2012 struggles and a knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season. Second-round draft pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a big corner with big potential, but he might need time to develop. Throw second-year pro Rod Sweeting into the mix, and a few other young guys, and this should easily rank as the most compelling position group to watch this summer.

Road woes: If it’s possible to address this issue during training camp, the Saints will find a way. Their struggles on the road last season derailed their Super Bowl chances. They’ve got to find a way to win enough road games in the regular season to make sure they’re playing at home in the playoffs -- where they are truly dominant inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints’ road performance will be especially important early on since they play three of their first four games on the road, including a critical Week 1 showdown at division rival Atlanta.

Coach Sean Payton and Brees were already stressing the importance of their road performance this summer. Although they’re confident in their ability to travel (especially after a playoff win at Philadelphia last season), they’re well aware of the need to handle things such as communication better. Payton broke down statistics for the team this summer and even pumped crowd noise into practices during OTAs -- something he had never done so early in the offseason. If nothing else, they’ll get used to hotel living, as they’ll spend three weeks at their new training camp site at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was easy to see as free agency opened this past March that the Denver Broncos -- even with a Super Bowl trip this past February and three consecutive AFC West titles in tow -- were going to be a team in transition in the locker room.

Not just the usual player turnover that coach John Fox says he prepares for each season -- "a third of your team is going to be new looking back at you in that meeting room, that's what I expect almost every year" -- but at the foundation, at the core. It's also turnover among the guys who keep an eye on things, the guys who keep the peace, the guys who give the needed pats on the back or deliver the kicks a little south of there.

The guys who run the room, who help keep the little problems from becoming big ones.

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
Michael Ciaglo/MCT/Icon SMIChris Harris has the potential to be a leader on defense, but injuries have kept him separated from his teammates.
"A lot of it is the players you bring in," Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said. "I just believe you have to get that locker room right, your leaders have to lead in what they say and what they do."

This offseason, including this week's mandatory minicamp, has been as much about getting their leadership secured as it has been about X's and O's. None of the five captains who strode to midfield to take the pregame coin flip as recently as the 2011 season are still with the team. The last three -- all significant contributors -- were lost this offseason.

Champ Bailey was released before he signed with the New Orleans Saints, Wesley Woodyard was not offered a contract, so he signed with the Tennessee Titans, and Chris Kuper retired.

Quarterback Peyton Manning and tackle Ryan Clady were voted captains on offense by their teammates last season -- Wes Welker was voted a captain after Clady went to injured reserve -- and there's no reason to believe Manning and Clady wouldn't get the votes again. Manning sets the agenda, in many ways for the entire team, by his approach and presence, but he's also a decade older than many of his teammates, and separated by standing and life experiences, so other voices will be needed on offense. That's where Clady comes in; he's a quiet, talented leader who has the respect of those around him.

Welker, too, has the savvy, veteran chops to get the attention of teammates, but some younger players such as Demaryius Thomas, Louis Vasquez and even second-year running back Montee Ball can emerge.

Defensively, however, it still bears watching given that two of the team's most talented defenders -- linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris -- are both on the mend from ACL surgery. Players going through injury rehab often spend much of their day away from their teammates. They are held out of most of the on-field work, which limits contact with their teammates at times.

"It's just so hard to lead right now when I'm not actually involved with a lot of things," Harris said. "That's the only thing that I would say hurts right now on the leadership part is that it's kind of like I'm on IR still. So everybody else does their thing and I kind of do my own thing. So I'm still in that situation. But film room, meeting room, off the field, I'm definitely going to lead, and once I get on the field that leadership is going to come right back."

Harris has the potential to act like a captain, with or without the actual C on his jersey -- Bailey often said as much during his time with the Broncos. So does linebacker Danny Trevathan, who led the team in tackles last season and has been pushing for more in offseason workouts.

"I'm sure that's in my picture, or at least I hope it is," Trevathan said of his potential to be a captain. "Right now I just need to get better, help others get better, help this team get better."

Broncos players say defensive end DeMarcus Ware, with a no-nonsense work ethic to go with 117 career sacks, has already earned the respect of his new teammates. Ware, simply because of his standing in the league and how he carries himself, has the potential to be an important voice among the Broncos.

Those who know him say he is a lead-by-example type who picks his spots carefully to speak. Often that works far better given that so few players have any patience for the rah-rah, in-your-face guys who don't practice anything close to what they preach.

In the end, this type of thing always gets sorted out. Talent will always be the biggest component in success, but talent is also the most wasted commodity in the league when it isn't accompanied by the ability to work in a group or some roll-up-your-sleeves attitude.

The Broncos are talented. They just need the right people keeping everyone involved and on the right track.
Champ BaileyAP Photo/Jack DempseyChamp Bailey has 52 career interceptions -- including a particularly memorable pick-six in 2005 against new Saints teammate Drew Brees.
METAIRIE, La. -- Perhaps no play has better defined Champ Bailey's remarkable career than the interception he returned 25 yards for a touchdown while with the Denver Broncos in Week 2 of the 2005 season.

And no one recalls that play more vividly than Bailey's new teammate with the New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees.

He was Bailey's victim.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Brees, who was with the San Diego Chargers at the time. "We were beating 'em 14-3. It was in the third quarter. And we were running this, just a hitch outside to slot, so it was across the field. And he just read it and jumped it and picked it and took it to the house."

The play itself was vintage Bailey, whose 52 career interceptions lead all active cornerbacks.

The impact of the play was huge for both teams. Denver, on the verge of an 0-2 start, went on to a 13-3 season. San Diego missed the playoffs at 9-7.

What made the moment even more symbolic of Bailey's career was the fact that he was coming off a dislocated shoulder suffered the week before while tackling Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown (the kind of physical play Bailey also has been known for throughout his career).

"He's a stud," Brees said, still shaking his head in disgust at the memory.

"You just knew every time you were going up against that guy, 'I cannot make a mistake, because he will make me pay,'" said Brees, who said Bailey's area of the field was always considered a "no-throw zone," a term reserved for only a few elite corners.

"It was just, 'Don't even think about it. It's not worth it,'" Brees said. "And whereas a lot of good cover corners have no interest in tackling, he's the exact opposite. He'll come up and hit you. He prides himself on being a good football player, not just a good cover guy. That sets him apart from the rest.

"I can't think of anybody that's done it as long as he's done it, at as high a level as he's done it."

When Bailey, 35, signed with the Saints this spring, there was naturally a lot of conversation about how much he might have left heading into his 16th NFL season. It's a fair question, considering Bailey's last season in Denver was plagued by injuries and inconsistent production.

What should not be lost is an appreciation for just how much of a "stud" Bailey has been throughout a career that has earned him 12 trips to the Pro Bowl and will one day land him in the Hall of Fame.

"I think sometimes after a year when you're injured, it's a 'What have you done for me lately?' world," said former NFL safety John Lynch, a teammate of Bailey's in Denver who is now a broadcast analyst for Fox. "But I think people forget: In my mind, Champ is one of the greatest defensive players ever to play the game."

'A real legend'

That appreciation certainly isn't lost on Brees or Saints coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who have also fallen victim to Bailey.

It's also not lost on a room full of young Saints defensive backs, all of whom have been gushing with admiration for their new teammate. Asked about Bailey, they were practically shouting over each other.

"He's the reason I wear No. 24," Corey White said.

"He's the reason I switched to defense," A.J. Davis said.

Rod Sweeting said it's still "overwhelming and exciting" to be around Bailey, whom he ranked alongside Deion Sanders as the corners he most revered growing up.

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
AP Photo/Bill HaberChamp Bailey may no longer have the skills of a shut-down cornerback, but he's a significant asset in the Saints locker room.
Keenan Lewis has made similar comments, including posting a picture of himself with Bailey in April on Instagram, with the caption, "My dream was to always meet this guy and I finally did. Amen God and thankyou. A real legend Champ Bailey."

A strong argument could be made for Bailey as one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history since he has thrived in an era in which the passing game has exploded because of rules changes and more sophisticated schemes.

Bailey began his career with the Washington Redskins in 1999 before being traded to Denver for running back Clinton Portis in 2004. He thrived for both teams.

Both Lynch's and Bailey's former coach, Mike Shanahan, said in the past that Bailey was even better than Sanders because he was more of a complete player. Former Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer once insisted Bailey was the best he had seen in nearly 50 years of coaching.

"What stands out most is how he has really tailored his game to the years that have gone by," said ESPN analyst Herm Edwards, a former coach and defensive back. "When Champ came into the league 15 years ago, it was a little different. Now, it's more wide open with the formations, and he's been able to adapt to all that. It says a lot about him."

NFL analyst Matt Bowen -- a former safety who played with Bailey in Washington -- agreed that Bailey is in a select group with Charles Woodson and Darrelle Revis as the best in the modern passing era.

"In the early 2000s, he was the best cornerback, maybe the best defensive player in the league, to be honest," said Bowen, who writes for Bleacher Report, among other outlets. "I mean, there were times during practice, in one-on-ones, he just looked like he was dancing with the receiver step for step.

"I've played with a lot of good defensive backs, guys who had great reaction time, great ball skills. But Champ had everything, I mean everything. He could've played offense if he wanted to. Could've played wide receiver, slot receiver. He was just that talented. Guys like him don't come around that often."

Bailey was a two-way star in college at Georgia, and Lynch said it was "rumored" that Bailey could run the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds.

But Lynch was just as impressed by Bailey's physicality. One of his greatest memories of Bailey was the first time they practiced together at the Pro Bowl, and Bailey was flying in to make tackles.

"He could play bump [coverage]. He could play off. He took the ball away. He took sides of the field away," Lynch said. "He's just a complete football player."

Another of Lynch's fondest memories was a play against the Oakland Raiders on which Bailey caught up to receiver Randy Moss from across the field to tip the ball away in the end zone.

"Everybody was like, 'What just happened?'" Lynch said. "'Champ just happened.'"

Not done yet

Edwards, Lynch and Bowen all immediately brought up the same word while describing what makes Bailey great: professionalism.

They raved not only about Bailey's great character and class -- he never has been a "diva" or self-promoter -- but also his relentless work ethic and dedication to technique and recognition of opponents' tendencies.

Early in his career, Bailey was arguably the best bump-and-run corner in the game. Then, he began to shift and play more off coverage because his defensive backs coach, Bob Slowik, felt like he could see the field well enough to do even more than just shut down one top receiver.

After that, Bailey became deadlier.

He finished 2005 with eight interceptions in the regular season -- followed by a 100-yard interception return against Tom Brady in a playoff victory over the New England Patriots.

Then, in 2006, Bailey had one of the most dominant seasons ever by a defensive back. Based on varying accounts, he was targeted only 35 of 39 times in man coverage, with a total of 10 interceptions and only four completions.

ESPN scouting insider K.C. Joyner said Bailey was especially dominant against deep passes that season and said his 2006 season ranked with Revis' 2009 as the best he's seen in 11 years of breaking down tape.

"When he's on his game, Bailey can completely shut down a receiver's vertical game," Joyner said. "Even last year, he gave up only 50 yards on nine vertical pass attempts."

Bowen said the Saints' young defensive backs would be cheating themselves if they don't try to absorb as much knowledge as possible from Bailey, who said he's more than happy to fill that role.

"My first thing is to lead by example, show how hard I can work and try to lead that way," Bailey said. "I know I have a lot of experience and I'm not going to shy away from telling them things I think they need to hear and making sure I'm there for them when they have questions."

But that's not the only reason the Saints brought in Bailey.

Although they aren't counting on him to be a shut-down cornerback anymore, they still believe those unparalleled ball skills can be a big asset.

Bailey already forced one interception with a pass breakup during the first organized team activities practice session that was open to the media last week.

"I'm telling you, he looks great out here. He's got a lot of life, he's got young legs and he's fun to watch," Ryan said. "I don't know what happened [last year when Bailey struggled], but I've seen him up close and personal, intercepting balls against us when I was in Oakland [during the 2000s]. … The way he has been able to cover people over the years and still make plays on the football, that's unique.

"He'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and we're fortunate to have him. It's awesome to add a great player like him."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is the meal and there is the parsley that simply rides along on the plate.

Whatever becomes of the 2014 season for the Denver Broncos, the team's offense, coming off the highest-scoring season in the league's history, will fuel much of the discussion as well as the team's fortunes along the way.

But as the Broncos get down to some of their offseason business this week, the team's defensive players have decided they don't want to just be ornamental. They want to have an impact.

"We just don't want to be that defense that does enough to get by and the offense is putting up 40 points," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "We just want to be that defense that goes out there and dominates and be talked about."

[+] EnlargeDenver's Terrance Knighton
Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)"We just don't want to be that defense that does enough to get by and the offense is putting up 40 points," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
On the way to their second 13-3 season in a row, their third consecutive AFC West title and a Super Bowl appearance, the Broncos offense scored a record 606 points and quarterback Peyton Manning set NFL single-season records for touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477). And the defense? Well, five starters finished the year on injured reserve as the unit finished 19th in the league in yards allowed per game (356.0) and 22nd in points allowed per game (24.9).

When all was said and done, 10 opponents scored at least 21 points and the Broncos surrendered 61 pass plays of at least 20 yards.

"I think last year we made a mistake of just having the guys we had thinking that was enough and not putting in the effort to be great," Knighton said. "That's something we're not talking about this year, the talent we have. We just want to go out there and put out the work. Like I said, just be a top defense and not be dominant in certain spots."

The Broncos lost three defensive starters in free agency -- linebacker Wesley Woodyard, cornerback Champ Bailey and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- but they responded with urgency, signing cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and safety T.J. Ward. They used a first-round pick on cornerback Bradley Roby. And the players themselves, the new arrivals and the holdovers, have kicked around the idea of being more than some high-profile passengers on the Broncos express.

So much so that when the Broncos' strength and conditioning coach, Luke Richesson, gave the players a day off Tuesday from the usual conditioning sessions, the defensive players all showed up for work any way.

"Everybody has that mindset," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "We thought we had better talent than how we played sometimes last season and we think we have a lot of talent this year."

"It's always exciting to start over," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "When you have a collection of guys coming back like we do -- a very talented group returning from injury, we also have a very talented group that we brought in -- free agency and draft picks. So getting all of those guys back out on the field, it's an exciting time of year."

When the Broncos sifted through what went wrong with the defense, the injuries to linebacker Von Miller, Harris, Rahim Moore, Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe certainly played a part. But executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has also consistently referenced a hole in last year's roster-building.

"We never really replaced Elvis [Dumervil]," Elway said.

Dumervil, who led the NFL in sacks in 2009 with 17 and had 63.5 sacks in six seasons with the Broncos, signed with the Baltimore Ravens last season after a fax fiasco forced the Broncos to release him to avoid paying him a bonus. It's why the Broncos were so persistent in their pursuit of Ware, who got a three-year deal worth $30 million, because they wanted the same kind of pressure package Dumervil and Miller provided when the Broncos were a top-five defense -- second in yards allowed per game and third in scoring defense.

They believe a nickel package with Ware and Miller rushing the passer -- in which offenses have to decide where and how to slide their protection plans -- with Talib, Harris and Roby at cornerback is faster and more athletic than last season's defense. The defensive players have already shown more edge as they work through the non-contact portions of the offseason program.

"The biggest way is as coaches, we provide a blueprint, we provide kind of a map for them," Del Rio said. "But then [the players] have to take it and make it their own. So the interaction they have, the time they spend lifting weights and running, different guys emerge. Guys earn the respect of their peers and I think as you play and you're here and as you show you're a guy that can be counted on, then your voice becomes a little more important. So that's how I think you kind of grow into it. Very rarely does a guy just plug himself and say, 'Hey I'm the leader.' So as coaches that's something that we encourage obviously, for guys to step up and take charge and be accountable and take responsibility for each other ... I feel good about our group."

METAIRIE, La. -- It's hard to picture any back surgery being "minor." Especially when the guy going under the knife is such a major part of the New Orleans Saints' plans.

But Saints coach Sean Payton sounded confident that safety Jairus Byrd will be fully healed in time for training camp and the start of the regular season -- stressing that they wouldn't have done the surgery if they didn't think the timetable made sense.

Hopefully that's the case, for the Saints' sake. Because Byrd is the centerpiece of their biggest push on defense this offseason -- to force more turnovers.

The Saints signed Byrd to a six-year, $54 million deal on the first day of free agency because of his prowess as a ball hawk. Byrd's 22 interceptions over the past five years with the Buffalo Bills ranked second in the NFL. And the three-time Pro Bowler also forced 11 fumbles during that stretch.

The Saints' defense was outstanding last year under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, ranking fourth in the NFL in yards allowed and points allowed and second in pass defense. However, they came up virtually empty when it came to forcing turnovers.

The Saints forced only four turnovers over the final 11 games of last season, including zero in two playoff games.

"That was a glaring weakness last year on our defense," Ryan said. "I think the effort was outstanding, our players are outstanding, we did pretty decent as a unit. But we want to be great. And to be great, you have to take the ball away."

It's been a huge priority for the Saints this offseason -- starting with the acquisition of players like Byrd and cornerback Champ Bailey. And it has clearly carried over to the practice field.

Defensive players were constantly trying to strip the ball away during Thursday's OTA session that was open to the media. Safety Rafael Bush and cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste each forced a fumble by knocking the ball away from receivers during full-team drills. And Bailey forced an interception by batting the ball free from receiver Kenny Stills and into the arms of linebacker Kyle Knox.

Ryan said coaches have been showing players highlight reels of longtime Chicago Bears standout defensive back Charles "Peanut" Tillman -- one of the best in the league at forcing turnovers over the past decade.

"He was a Ragin' Cajun, wasn't he [at Louisiana-Lafayette]? I like that there," Ryan said of Tillman. "He's great to watch, so we've been trying to imitate him. Imitation is the biggest form of flattery.

"So we enjoy doing that. We're working hard on that. We know we have to improve on that. Seattle won the Super Bowl; they took the ball away more than anybody. They raised the bar, so we have to match it."

Saints outside linebacker Victor Butler -- another new weapon at their disposal now that he has returned from a knee injury that kept him out all of last season -- said players are fired up about forcing turnovers.

"That's the great thing about Coach Ryan and about the guys here," said Butler, who followed Ryan from the Dallas Cowboys to New Orleans. "When Coach Ryan says something is important, guys take it to heart. We've had guys attacking the ball, punching the ball out, ripping the ball out, stripping it, going up for interceptions, picking up loose balls on the ground.

"If you emphasize it that much in OTAs and camps and stuff like that, when it gets to the season, now it's second nature. Guys are going for the ball, guys are creating those turnovers and getting Drew Brees and that offense as many opportunities to score points as we can."
There is football. There is life. And then there is life in football.

And when the Denver Broncos look at this year’s rookie class, they see players like cornerback Bradley Roby, wide receiver Cody Latimer, tackle Michael Schofield and linebacker Lamin Barrow, players who are expected to contribute plenty to the 2014 season. The are potential starters on that list, or if the Broncos have good fortune, there could be others among the first-year players overall who earn their way on to the depth chart.

But to get those contributions on the field, those players will not only have to digest a far beefier playbook than ever before, but they will have to find a way to acclimate quickly to football as a job.

Asked what was more difficult for rookies, to adapt on the field or off of it, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who made the Broncos as an undrafted rookie in 2011, answered without hesitation.

“I would say life, just making sure everything is straight,’’ Harris Jr. said. “It’s like a totally different adventure that you’re going on, people blowing you up all the time, friends and family. The football, this is what you want to do, where you kind of hoped you’d be, it kind of gets you away from the rest for a little bit. Life distractions can’t get you on the field, or you can’t let them. But the key is to limit those life distractions. I’ve always kind of kept my circle small.’’

That thought is straight out of the Book of Bailey, as in Champ Bailey. The former Broncos cornerback, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection who signed with the New Orleans Saints after the Broncos released him, routinely talked about how he limited access to his affairs to a small group.

Or as former Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith has said; “The guys who have too much going outside these walls find themselves on the outside real quick, looking in on the guys who took care of their business. Some guys just don’t figure that out fast enough.’’

“These younger guys, they come in and a lot of times they’ve got a big circle,’’ Harris Jr. “That can be tough. Champ, he had a small circle, real small. So small it almost wasn’t a circle, but I watched, I learned and I never really had the kind of issues some guys had.’’

The team’s rookies did their first on-field work on their own last week, but this week the full team will gather on the field for the first set of organized team activities (OTAs). The rookies have spent some of the last two weeks participating in meetings with the team’s veteran players, so they have had a taste of the football side of things.

The Broncos have also tried to show the team’s newest players how to prepare for some of the other issues they will face.

“You approach it like your children,’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox. “You try to give them wisdom in all areas: Off the field, the dos and don’ts in our city, where to go and not to go. Jerry Butler, our player development guy and our chaplain, our coaches. They’re just great resources. [Team owner] Pat Bowlen does a great job as far as getting people and resources here to help these young men, really in all areas.”

It has been a front-burner issue for the Broncos on all fronts to be sure. The team had a rocky ride off the field during last year’s offseason when front-office executives Matt Russell and Tom Heckert were each arrested for DUI offenses and All Pro linebacker Von Miller was suspended for six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy to go with an arrest for a missed court date and some traffic violations.

And this offseason has now already had a bump or two as well. This past week free-agent signee T.J. Ward was charged with misdemeanor assault and disturbing the peace for an incident in a Denver strip club and Russell was sentenced to seven months in jail for last summer’s arrest.

It has all had the Broncos continuing to evaluate the resources they have available for players and other team employees. Fox has described it “as letting guys know what we have available to them and encourage them every chance we get to use those resources. It’s there and we want them to use it.’’

For the team’s rookies it can be as basic as the team’s nutritionist creating meal plans to others helping to locate apartments and finding a bank. All with clearing away enough things so they first-year players can get down to the business of football.

“It’s like 100 percent different,’’ Schofield said. “A lot more complicated It’s all different now.’’

“I plan on getting things in order so I can really get to the football side of things,’’ Barrow said. “I just want to be in the hip pocket of the veteran guys to learn everything I can. I feel like I’ll ask all the questions I can and they’ve said they’ll help with everything.’’
Champ Bailey, Jairus ByrdGetty ImagesChamp Bailey, left, and Jairus Byrd further solidify an already talented Saints secondary.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' defensive backs stand out as a competitive bunch. So it should come as no surprise that they didn’t wait for organized team activities next week to find a way to start battling each other on the field.

Spearheaded by cornerback Keenan Lewis, who is from the west bank of New Orleans, the Saints’ DBs have been getting together this offseason for group workouts at local parks.

That group has included big-name newcomers Champ Bailey and Jairus Byrd in a secondary that is now jam-packed with talent. But, as Bailey said, that won’t do the Saints any good if it doesn’t translate onto the field.

“It can look good on paper. I love our potential, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Bailey, a future Hall of Famer with 15 seasons and 12 Pro Bowls under his belt. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to find out how to work together and mesh and improve. Because that’s really what wins you games is playing together and being a great team.”

So far, though, Bailey said he likes what he has seen from his new teammates.

“A young group. Hungry. I haven’t met one guy that didn’t work hard or didn’t want to be great. So that spells some great things for us,” said Bailey, who said his belief in the Saints’ championship potential has been strengthened by his early impressions of his new teammates.

“Absolutely,” Bailey said. “Everybody carries themselves in a championship manner here. You know, I’ve been around some good teams. I was on a pretty good team last year [the Denver Broncos]. We came up short, and I just want another opportunity. And I think this is a great place for me.”

After spending the past 10 years with the Broncos, Bailey said it has been interesting to get to know a whole new group of guys and their personalities.

None has stood out more than Lewis -- again, not surprisingly.

Lewis himself admitted, “Those guys think I’m real funny because I talk a lot. But I just want everybody to feel comfortable in the locker room and, you know, as a family. And we’ve got one goal we’ve got to reach.”

Bailey laughed when he heard that and said, “He does [talk a lot]. He gets his share of words in. But it’s all good stuff. He’s a great, positive guy. He works harder than anybody on the team. So it’s great to be around a group of guys like that.”

Lewis is arguably the most competitive of the bunch, as he made clear last year when he didn’t hide his disappointment over being snubbed for his first Pro Bowl. This year, Lewis said he is aiming for his first All-Pro selection instead.

However, Lewis said he is keeping his goal of seven interceptions the same as last year, because he knows it will be tougher with interception-magnet Byrd now roaming the back of the secondary.

“I’m scared to have him back there. I hope he just don’t get in the way and take all the interceptions,” Lewis said. “That’s a ball-hawk type of guy, great to work with. I had the opportunity to play [against] him in college [when Lewis was at Oregon State and Byrd was at Oregon]. So I’m glad to have him as a teammate.”

Second-year cornerback Rod Sweeting -- who insists that he won’t step aside quietly in the competition with veteran corners like Lewis, Bailey, Corey White and Patrick Robinson -- said the offseason workout sessions have brought out the competitiveness in everyone.

“We have [18] DBs here, so we’re all just competing, having a good time, enjoying each other,” Sweeting said. “You know, when somebody does something better than the other, then the other one tries to match that.”

Lewis said he has been playing the role of quarterback in many of those sessions. “I’m another Drew Brees,” he joked.

But he said the main focus has been working on those interceptions. Last year, forcing turnovers was the one area where the Saints defense fell short, despite ranking No. 2 in the NFL in pass defense and No. 4 overall.

“We definitely got better,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve added the pieces that we missed, because I didn’t feel like we had no pieces missing. But we got some guys who can help. ... I’m pretty sure we’ll be ready, competing to be one of the best in the league.”

Vaccaro healing: Safety Kenny Vaccaro -- another ultracompetitor in the Saints secondary -- was unavailable to the media during teammate Ben Grubbs’ charity softball game Wednesday night, when the other defensive backs spoke. But it was worth noting that Vaccaro didn’t have any covering over the ankle that he fractured late last season.

It is unclear if Vaccaro will be limited during OTAs next week, but he is expected to be fully healthy in plenty of time for the season.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On his trek from being a guy some folks in the league said was too short and then going undrafted, to one of the most important players on the field and in the locker room for the Denver Broncos, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has always been about jumping life’s hurdles to get where he hopes to go.

So, it really is no surprise, as he heals from surgery to repair his left ACL, he plans on being on the field before this summer’s training camp is over and in the lineup when the Broncos open the regular season Sept. 7 against the Indianapolis Colts.

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports"I haven't had an offseason, I've been here," Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said on his return since ACL surgery.
"I’m ready, I’ve been working my ass off, excuse my language," Harris Jr. said with a smile. “I haven’t had an offseason, I’ve been here. I went to Dr. Andrews [for surgery], that was my little vacation and I’ve been here. Treatment every day and now I’m pretty much doing two-a-days, I’m here at 6:45, then coming back for the meetings and the lift. I’m feeling great, I'll be ready. I’m building my confidence because I wasn’t down too long. I’m able to test things, I just feel confident about what’s going to happen.’’

“I’m not doing everything until mid-training camp,’’ Harris Jr. continued. “I’ll probably be ready at the beginning of training camp, but I probably won’t do anything until mid-training camp. I’ll continue to do my workouts, watch and coach them up.’’

With Champ Bailey’s release, Harris Jr. is now one of the elder statesmen in the Broncos’ secondary, at least when it comes to the team’s playbook. As he enters his fourth season, he has gone from an undrafted rookie who caught Bailey’s eye in 2011’s training camp -- “that kid competes on every play, doesn’t get rattled,’’ Bailey said then -- to a key part in how the Broncos’ go about things on the field.

So much so, that the Broncos allowed a Total QBR of 43.6 in the 2013 regular season when Harris was on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And in the 81 snaps that he wasn't on the field, opponents had a Total QBR of 93.

Ask defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio about Harris Jr. and the word “competes’’ will often be somewhere in the first sentence, as in “he just competes on every play, in practice, in games, he leaves nothing for granted.’’

He's just the do-it-all guy, who can line up outside against an opponent’s best receiver or move down inside to the slot and win those physical battles in the everything-happens-fast area of the of the field. And it was noticeable when Harris left the Broncos’ divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter this past January as the Broncos had a 17-0 lead when Harris Jr. was in the game and the Chargers scored 17 points in the fourth quarter when he was not.

It was a non-contact play, but an injury Harris Jr. believed was coming even before it happened.

“I was definitely surprised, at least a little bit, that it was a partially torn ACL.’’ Harris Jr. said. “But I wasn’t surprised there was something wrong because I had been having little nagging injuries in my left leg for about two years, then after the (Dec. 1) Chiefs game, I couldn’t walk after that game, I was just so sore. I just figured something in my left leg was just wearing down. After a while, that’s why it happened so easy, it was non-contact, I do those same movements every day. So, it was something that was bound to happen, because I just feeling those little pains before. I was probably playing with it before I really knew.’’

Harris Jr.’s scheduled return would certainly help a re-vamped Broncos’ secondary. The Broncos opened owner Pat Bowlen’s checkbook to sign cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward in free agency and then used a first-round pick earlier this month on cornerback Bradley Roby.

Talib and Harris Jr. started together on a Kansas defense that helped the team win an Orange Bowl -- “so we already have that chemistry together,’’ Harris Jr. said -- and thought the Broncos are still in the shorts-and-T-shirts phase of the offseason workouts, Ward continues to draw raves from teammates and coaches alike.

The Broncos hope the plan makes it from the drawing board to the field. Talib and Harris Jr. could be the starters with Roby and Kayvon Webster, a 2013 draft pick, fitting into the specialty packages. If that comes to fruition it would give them a three-cornerback look in the nickel (five defensive backs) and a four-cornerback look in the dime (six defensive backs) that would feature more speed and athleticism than they had last season to match up with three- and four-wide receiver sets.

“Two years ago we finished in the top of the league and last year, we didn’t,’’ Del Rio said. “We like being at the top. So we’ll work our way back. We’ve got good players, good design. We’re going to work hard. And we expect to be good.’’

“This is my third year with Jack now, I feel like I know the defense inside and out,’’ Harris Jr. said. “And we’ve got a lot of new guys, so I try to make it easier on them. But I’m on track to get back out there. I’ve got big plans, so much motivation for this year. This a good team, we expect great things. I'm going to be a part of it, that's for sure, I'm going to be part of it.’’

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

May, 17, 2014
May 17
For Part 2 of the Redskins mailbag, we're talking Robert Griffin III and the Hall of Fame (what!?), which offensive alignments the Redskins might favor, defensive sets against Philadelphia, the offensive line and more. Enjoy.
When the Denver Broncos gathered this week for their first group workouts of the offseason, there were plenty of new faces on the roster.

DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib and Will Montgomery lead the way in the new arrival department, at least until the draft class arrives next month. But for many on hand this week, the workouts still had an odd feel to them.

The Broncos were missing three former team captains -- three powerful voices in the locker room, three players others often looked to in good times, as well as bad, to show others the way.

Champ Bailey is in New Orleans, having been released by the Broncos after 10 seasons. Chris Kuper retired and Wesley Woodyard signed with the Tennessee Titans.

And while Super Bowls are won with talent on the field, they are also won with how things get handled in the locker room along the way, because ego, the pursuit of credit, fretting over contract status, grousing over playing time and the general human condition has cratered almost as many title hopefuls as the injury report.

Asked this week about the team's identity, quarterback Peyton Manning said what he usually says when things such as identity or chemistry are the topics of the day.

"I don't know if it has to be the same or different," Manning said. "I want it to be an identity that helps us win football games. I think it's hard to say what it is going to be at this point. Our full roster has certainly not been decided. The draft is -- when is the draft now? It's like in September now. ...We still probably need to see who we are based on who the personnel is, I think you form the identity from that. I think it is OTAs, it's definitely training camp and obviously it'd be nice to have it somewhere around the beginning of the season, but even before, I think you can develop it throughout the course of the season -- what really works for you."

It also means players such as Manning and left tackle Ryan Clady, the team's captains on offense last season -- Wes Welker replaced Clady when Clady went on injured reserve -- will again have prominent roles in the locker room.

But defensively, with Bailey and Woodyard gone, there are some players who are going to have to step forward in how they handle themselves as well as how they interact with their teammates. Linebacker Danny Trevathan has the look of a potential captain in how he approaches his job and how he plays on the field. As does cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who is currently working his way back from ACL surgery.

They will be two of the most important voices in the defensive meeting room, kind of a bridge between the new arrivals like Ward, Talib and Ware and the players who have been with the Broncos. But it would be a shock if Ware, whose friends in the league say is one of the hardest workers they have been around, is not elected a team captain by his new teammates when the votes get tallied later this summer.

Ware is a classic lead-by-example guy who has 117 sacks on his playing resume. He will serve an important role in the coming weeks and months, as a veteran presence on that side of the ball. And while Ware's presence will certainly benefit Von Miller, Derek Wolfe is another player who could reap the rewards as well. Wolfe had the look of an impact player as a rookie in 2012 before last season's illness landed him on injured reserve.

The Broncos have some questions to answer on the field as they get started, but they're working through some in the locker room as they move through these opening weeks of their offseason work.

"Everything is all about details when it comes to football," Ware said this week. "When you have everything in place, it really doesn't matter. It comes to the small things of guys really wanting it, the mistakes that you make and it starts this offseason with just working out and guys really giving it their all. That carries over into the season."
AVONDALE, La. -- Champ Bailey met with the New Orleans media for the first time on Tuesday. Naturally, one of the first questions for the Saints' new 35-year-old cornerback was how much football he has left in him.

“We'll see,” Bailey said. “I still got some now. That's all I'm worried about right now. I'm not looking beyond that.”

Bailey, who spoke before teeing off in a celebrity golf shootout as part of New Orleans' Zurich Classic PGA tournament, hasn't had to deal much with those types of questions throughout his stellar career.

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY Sports"I can't get out and run 365 days a year. That's just not smart," Champ Bailey said. "So it's just trying to prepare smarter and do things the right way so I can play a lot longer."
The former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins standout is a 12-time Pro Bowler and a future Hall of Famer. But for now, the jury is still out on how much he has left in the tank.

“Well, that comes with the business,” Bailey said. “People are always gonna doubt you. You have one hiccup, and you know, you're just not the same. My thing is just to go out there and play the best I can.

“I'm not trying to prove anything to anybody but myself and my teammates. That's all I've got to do.”

Bailey struggled last season with the Broncos, largely due to a foot injury that sidelined him for 11 games.

He was then released by Denver after the season. And though the Saints showed interest in him early, he went unsigned for a month before the Saints inked him to an incentive-laden two-year deal that included only $500,000 in guaranteed money.

The Saints obviously feel like Bailey still has something left. They added him despite releasing several of their own aging players at other positions this offseason.

Bailey will compete for the No. 2 cornerback job opposite Keenan Lewis. He'll compete against younger corners Corey White and Patrick Robinson, among others.

“My thing is to find my place on this team and my role and just play to the best of my ability,” Bailey said.

Bailey mentioned more than once that the goal in New Orleans is to win a championship. He said the Saints' ability to do that was one of the main attractions for him.

When asked Tuesday if there was any one deciding factor -- be it head coach Sean Payton or defensive coordinator Rob Ryan -- Bailey pointed to quarterback Drew Brees above all others.

“Well, those are definitely some big factors,” Bailey said of Payton and Ryan. “I mean, you want a good head coach (with) a good track record. And Rob Ryan, we know what he's done in this league for defenses. But, you know, when I look around the league in my experience, you've got to have a good quarterback. And Drew Brees was a big part in that.

“You're not gonna win that many games without a good quarterback and a good pass rush. Those two things together, plus the good coaches, it makes for a good team.”

Bailey, who turns 36 in June, said he doesn't plan to alter his training regimen much this year from recent years. But he said that he did change up his routine a few years ago to better pace himself because of age and injuries.

“I can't get out and run 365 days a year. That's just not smart,” Bailey said. “So it's just trying to prepare smarter and do things the right way so I can play a lot longer.”

Broncos draft rewind: 2013

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
As the guy at the top of the football flow chart for the Denver Broncos for the last three seasons, John Elway has now overseen three drafts for the team.

The Broncos have made 23 picks in those three drafts and found seven full-time starters. Denver hopes to be add to that total this season if things go as planned in May.

But let’s go inside each of those three drafts to see how things have gone and where they are headed.

Today: 2013.

First pick: Sylvester Williams, 28th overall. When the Broncos selected him last April they saw an every-down option, a potentially disruptive interior pass rusher and a player also strong enough to play with power in run defense as well.

Given Williams’ personal history -- a stint working on an assembly line in a factory before deciding to walk on to play football in junior college -- the Broncos also saw a player with plenty of room to grow on the developmental curve to go with the work ethic that put him in the a position to be a first-round pick.

With Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson both having ended up on injured reserve last season, Williams went from being inactive on game day three times in the season’s first nine games to starting the team’s last four games of the regular season and three playoff games.

Starters: 1.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
AP Photo/Jack DempseyBroncos running back Montee Ball wasn't technically a starter last season, but that should change in 2014.
With those seven starts in 2013, Williams was the only Broncos player from last April’s draft class to open that many games. He is the only "starter" in the group by the letter of the law at the moment.

But running back Montee Ball (second round) will be the second starter as soon as the Broncos open their offseason workouts. Ball, with 312 snaps this past season, actually played more overall than Williams (296 snaps) and finished as the team’s second-leading rusher with 559 yards.

Williams and Ball will continue to lead this draft class. With the Broncos expected to add some wrinkles -- and attention -- to the run game, Ball will have the potential for a breakout season.

Best value pick: At the moment it’s Ball. As the 58th player selected in the 2013 draft, Ball was the classic example of production over measurables in the pre-draft process.

He didn’t run as well as many of the other running backs on the board, but he plays faster, and showed good instincts with the ball. A lot of players talk about what needs to be done. Ball actually put in the time and effort to do those things. Ball improved in pass protection, boding well for the future. Despite few opportunities as a receiver in the run-first Wisconsin offense, he will function just fine catching the ball in the league.

Now’s the time: The Broncos expect and need Williams to take a significant jump this season. There are few positions -- other than quarterback -- where it is more difficult to move quickly into the lineup and have an impact as an NFL rookie.

NFL offensive guards are far stronger, move better and play smarter so the transition for the defensive tackle can be tough because there isn’t much room to work in the middle of the field. So once a defensive tackle is shut out of the play it is difficult for him to win the advantage back.

Williams flashed the ability to consistently win position off the snap down the stretch. If he takes the usual step between a rookie and second season, he should be one of the starters on the interior.

Gone: WR Tavarres King. The Broncos believed King, who had played in a school-record 56 games at Georgia, had the physical skills to go with some on-field maturity to get into their rotation as a rookie.

And King flashed those skills in camp, but he also showed a little too much ego and attitude for the Broncos’ liking at times, so they put him on the practice squad. But after a one-week move to the active roster last October, the Broncos tried to get him through waivers and back on the practice squad to bring Von Miller back from his six-game suspension.

King was signed by the Carolina Panthers, but did not play in any games last season. That hole in the draft class means the Broncos will be inclined to take a receiver out of this draft's exceptionally deep class.

More to come? Though the Broncos will give a long look to the cornerbacks in this year’s draft, cornerback Kayvon Webster (third round) will have the opportunity to earn plenty of playing time in the nickel and dime packages moving into the season.

With Champ Bailey's departure and Chris Harris Jr. still coming back from ACL surgery, Webster will have to be in the mix.

Also, defensive end Quanterus Smith (fifth round) did not play as a rookie after the Broncos placed him on injured reserve as training camp drew to a close. Smith, who had a three-sack game against an Alabama offensive line loaded with NFL draft picks in his senior season at Western Kentucky, had torn his ACL in his last collegiate season.

The Broncos tried him in the rotation in camp, but decided to move him to the IR in an attempt to bring him back at full speed this year. With Miller still working through his return from December ACL surgery, the Broncos could use Smith to come out of the gate strong.

Smith, at 255 pounds, is slightly undersized to play the power left end spot, but could have some opportunities to play there as Miller works his way back.
The New Orleans Saints have more wiggle room than expected under the salary cap.

Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley agreed to a pay cut of $2.85 million. And newly-signed cornerback Champ Bailey’s first-year cap cost is only $1.5 million in an incentive-laden two-year contract.

Those two deals were officially processed on Wednesday, leaving the Saints with nearly $4 million in cap space. Their new deal for safety Rafael Bush hasn’t been processed yet, though that shouldn't affect New Orleans’ cap figure by more than $1 million or so.

Bunkley’s pay cut makes a lot of sense for two reasons.

He was originally slated to make $4.5 million in salary and bonuses this year – a lofty price tag considering he has been a part-time player for the Saints the past two years. Last year he finished with only 13 tackles, in part because of a calf injury that sidelined him for four games.

However, it also made sense that the Saints didn’t just cut Bunkley outright, since they still believe the 30-year-old can be an asset as a powerful run-stuffer. And he finished last season strong, playing some of his best football in his two-year stint in New Orleans.

Bunkley will make a total of $1.65 million this year, including a $300,000 roster bonus due Thursday. The final two years of his five-year contract were not affected, though they will likely have to be addressed again in the future.

Saints coach Sean Payton said situations like Bunkley’s play out every year in the NFL.

“You go through the numbers, you try to look closely at your roster. There’s some things that go into that,” Payton said. “He’s someone that I think has really kept in good shape. He had the injury earlier in the year. We saw really good signs from him in training camp. He knows the position. We’re excited he re-signed.”

Bailey, meanwhile, won’t cost the Saints much unless he performs for them – which is obviously a win-win proposition for the team.

Bailey’s two-year deal is worth between $3.75 million and $6.75 million, based on various bonuses and incentives. But only the $500,000 signing bonus is guaranteed.

Bailey is due a base salary of $1 million this year, plus another $250,000 roster bonus if he is active for at least six games. In 2015, he is due $2 million in salary and roster bonuses.

There is a total of $3 million more in incentives and escalator clauses based on playing time, interceptions and Pro Bowls. The exact thresholds are not known.
Champ BaileyDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesChamp Bailey is looking to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2013 season.

Sure, Champ Bailey might be over the hill.

But that doesn't mean he can't help the New Orleans Saints get over the hump.

Of course, you have to be skeptical about how much Bailey has left in the tank at age 35. And it's hard to ignore the fact that the Denver Broncos decided to let him go at a time when they're all-in to win while Peyton Manning is still their quarterback.

But it's also hard to argue with the Saints' decision to sign Bailey on Friday for two reasons above all others:

1. Bailey is one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history. Not just a guy who made one or two Pro Bowls in his prime. A guy who made 12 of them -- one shy of the record for all defensive players in league history.

2. The Saints have proven time and again this offseason that they're looking forward, not in the past. They've cut ties with six of their own all-time great veterans this offseason. They've pored over every player on the roster with a cold, calculating eye because of their salary-cap constraints and their desire to win another Super Bowl as soon as possible.

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
AP Photo/Eric GayIt will be up to Rob Ryan to see what kind of production he can still get out of Bailey.
And the Saints believe Bailey is worth a two-year contract that is worth up to $7 million, according to a report by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The Saints believe that creative defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can find a role for the 6-foot, 192-pound cornerback, who has always excelled in press coverage -- even as recently as 2012, before a foot injury plagued his disappointing 2013 season.

So count me among the optimists in this deal.

If nothing else, it's no small matter to add a future Hall of Famer to the locker room, film room and practice field. I'm not sure I've ever seen such an overwhelming response from Saints players about a new addition as we saw on Twitter following the news of Bailey's deal.

I spoke with ESPN scouting insiders Matt Williams and KC Joyner about Bailey. Both were turned off by Bailey's struggles in 2013 (when he was limited to five regular-season games because of the injury before returning for the playoffs). And Williamson said, "I hate to say it, but I think he's pretty close to done."

Joyner was a little higher on Bailey, though, since he was impressed with Bailey's 2012 performance.

Joyner has a metric he calls "good coverage" rating for defensive backs. He said Bailey's rating of 29 percent in 2012 ranked 21st among NFL cornerbacks that year. And he said he was a "shut-down" corner when he was in press coverage that year, when he allowed only four short completions and one contact penalty in 15 passes thrown his way.

Last year, however, Joyner said that Bailey allowed nine completions for 123 yards on a total of 11 passes thrown his way in all one-on-one coverage situations.

"If the cornerback of 2013 shows up, that's not gonna be a good sign," Joyner said. "You want to see him revert back to an earlier version. But that depends on how much injuries were impacting him last year."

Bailey, for one, believes he can bounce back.

He told the Saints' website that he tried to "grind my way" through the injury last year but couldn't quite get over it.

"I have a little more to my game, I believe, especially mentally," Bailey said.

Joyner is also optimistic.

"I'll bet he can get back to what he was in 2012," Joyner said. "If they get that Champ Bailey, the 2012 version, you've got a solid cornerback. He's not gonna be the shut-down guy he was in his prime. … But I would think he's one of those players who can bounce back.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see him, even if he takes a quarter-step back from 2012, that's still a very good No. 3 corner or a solid starter. You wouldn't be afraid to put the guy on the field if he's at that level."

Bailey will compete for that No. 2 starter job with Corey White and Patrick Robinson, two younger corners with some starting experience but also inconsistent track records.

Bailey could also play some sort of hybrid safety-cornerback role in nickel and dime packages. That's what a handful of defensive coaches and personnel executives told Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold when he asked around about Bailey's prospects in recent weeks.

But Bailey told USA Today that the Saints never approached him about the idea of switching to safety, and that he will have a chance to compete for the starting corner job.

"I still think corner is their No. 1 need. Yesterday and today," Williamson said. "I guess the Saints are in win-now mode. And I don't think they're super worried about looking to the future right now, and they're taking their shot. [Bailey] didn't play very well, though.

"He had a tough season [in 2013]. And I hate to say it, but I think he's pretty close to done. But maybe he sticks around for one year.

"The thing I thought most was, from where [the Saints] are picking in the draft, there should be some corners to pick from in the top two rounds. Maybe Bailey is just their mentor."

Williamson also pointed to the Broncos' season-ending playoff loss after the 2012 season, when Bailey struggled in coverage against Baltimore Ravens speed receiver Torrey Smith, as another sign of Bailey's gradual decline.

Williamson said the Saints will want to avoid having Bailey in single coverage against speed receivers. But he did agree that Bailey's press coverage and tackling ability can still be strengths. And Williamson is confident in Ryan's ability to put players in the right positions.

"He's such a great athlete and a rare specimen and a great player," Williamson said. "I'm not sure exactly how he fits. But it was obviously a weakness, and if you get a little out of him, great. He's still a good tackling corner. He's a physical corner still. Knowledge of the game. He can still compete for the football in the air for sure."

Clearly, the Saints are making a little bit of a gamble here. But I believe in Bailey's long track record. I believe in what I saw from Ryan's abilities as an aggressive chess-master last year. I believe in the talent that's now stacked around Bailey in the Saints' secondary.

And I believe, if nothing else, the Saints' 2014 season just became even more interesting.