Champ Bailey is now 35 years old and has 2 years left on his contract with Denver. (Photo courtesy of bleacher-report.com)
12 pro-bowls isn't enough these days.
I'm a lifelong Denver fan and an even bigger Champ fan, but ever since that pitiful game in the 2012 playoffs where Torrey Smith dismantled the long time shutdown corner of the Denver defense, I've had my concerns.
One bad game certainly is not enough to erase 12 pro-bowls and a legacy of greatness. But it was a big game. And unfortunately, its been more than just one bad game.
Bailey was banged up during preseason forcing him to miss the first five games of the season with a foot injury (which he re-aggravated again last weekend against the Colts). In his return against Jacksonville, he matched up against 2nd year wideout Justin Blackmon. The game had a a 26.5 point spread in favor of Denver and nobody argued with it. With Champ returning to the lineup against arguably the worst team in NFL history, few dared to suggest Blackmon might have a breakout game.
4 quarters later Denver won 35-19, not covering the spread, but more surprisingly Champ Bailey allowed Blackmon to rack up 190 yards over the course of 14 receptions. 14. That's huge when you're matched up against a nobody. That's remarkable against a 12 time pro-bowler. But its not Blackmon's remarkable performance that deserves attention, its the dismal showing from Champ.
I said earlier that one bad game is not enough to erase his legacy. Two isn't either. But how many bad games does it take before John Fox pulls the plug and allows his younger and quicker CBs to take Champ's place. Almost every fan would hate to see Champ sidelined after all he has done for this Denver Broncos franchise. For many years he was the only glimmering light among a midst of Greasy Plumbers and a disheveled coaching staff. But with a Superbowl caliber team like the one we see this year, at some point a tough decision might need to be made.
It doesn't make it any easier that the guys filling in for Champ during his injury have been tearing it up. Chris Harris, 24 years young, has 3 interceptions already after only 8 games. That's tied for the second most in the NFL. He worked to fill Bailey's shoes for the first 5 games of his absence. On the other side of the field, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has also been rock solid (2 interceptions of his own this season). More recently Kayvon Webster, 3rd round draft pick in last years draft, has stepped up and Chris Harris has resorted to his slot receiver cornerback role that was originally intended for him.
Webster is a rookie and that means two things: he's young and he's young. In other words, his youth allows him to run and move his body in ways that Champ can only dream of at his age. So far he has recorded two takeaways (one interception and one forced fumble) as well as laid some pretty heavy hits. But it also means he's going to make mistakes. Like pushing Jason Witten out of the endzone in the game against the Cowboys.
Denver has done well to develop such a deep secondary, but continues to struggle ranking 30th overall. That being said, in many of Denver's games this season opponents have been fighting large deficits from early on forcing them to resort almost exclusively to the pass. Regardless, there is no excuse for putting up 52 points in a game and only winning by a field goal. (Champ did not play in that game.) If Denver finds a way to keep opponents out of the endzone and more importantly, gets Peyton Manning and his supporting cast back on the field, there is no literally no stopping them.
Going into the bye week there are a lot of unanswered questions right now about Champ. First off, how bad is this foot injury? Is that really whats holding him back? Or is it something more fundamental, like age? Does he still have what it takes to keep up with all these young, fast, athletic receivers? And ultimately, come playoff time, do Chris Harris or Kayvon Webster give Denver a better chance of winning football games?
Broncos fans have waited more than a decade for a team like this. But so has Champ Bailey. And if Denver fans are anything, they are loyal. For that reason, I don't see Champ warming any benches anytime soon. But should his struggles continue, things could get very interesting in the Denver locker room.