Former Denver cornerback Champ Bailey (Eric Lutzens, Denver Post file)
It will seem strange. Champ Bailey will not be out there wearing orange and blue and No. 24 for the Broncos during the 2014 season.
He will be wearing the black and gold, maybe even with a new number for the New Orleans Saints.
Arguably the best defensive player in Broncos history after he spent the past 10 years with the club, Bailey reached agreement Friday with the Saints on a two-year contract. The maximum value of the contract, with incentives, is $7 million.
The deal includes some fully guaranteed money in year one.
“It will be different,” Bailey said. “I think anybody in the same situation would notice it’s different. But I’m open to moving on to a good team in a good place.
“I will miss Denver, but at the same time, this is my job. I take my job seriously. All my emotions and my support is to the Saints’ organization at this point.”
Despite being named to an NFL-record 12 Pro Bowls, Bailey will be playing with something to prove in 2014. His release from the Broncos last month indicated his former team no longer thought he could play at a high level. He will turn 36 in June.
“I understand it,” Bailey said. “When you’re my age, coming off a bad year. If I were on the outside looking in, I’d probably be saying the same thing. But that’s why you play the game. I’m not worried about it.”
Bailey was a Pro Bowler in 2012, but suffered a sprained Lisfranc in his left foot during the preseason of 2013 and missed 11 games. One concern about the Saints is that they play at the Superdome, which has an artificial surface.
“It feels good,” Bailey said about his foot. “I was a little worried about the turf before, but I’m not now. I just want to get out there and have a full season of working out and get the pounding on it. I’ll know in the first few weeks how the foot is going to hold up. I feel optimistic about it. I haven’t had any issues with it since I came back for the last three games.”
When Bailey returned late last season for the Broncos, he accepted a nickelback role. With the Saints, he will compete for a starting cornerback job.
“That’s where we’re going to start out,” he said. “That’s the situation I wanted. They didn’t talk about the third corner or safety. I’m open to it if it comes up, but that’s not part of the discussion right now.”
Bailey said he pretty much knew he was going to be a Saint even before his visit with the team Monday night and Tuesday. The past three days have been about his agent Jack Reale working out the contract details.
Other teams were interested in Bailey, but the Saints “showed the most faith in me,” he said.
The Saints’ two primary selling points: Head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. Along with Peyton Manning, the quarterback Bailey just left in Denver, and New England’s Tom Brady, Brees has been considered among the NFL’s top three quarterbacks over the past 10 seasons.
“That’s almost No. 1,” Bailey said. “You play in this league a long time, I know how important that position is. He’s one of the best.”
From afar, Bailey always liked the edginess Payton brings to the sideline.
“I like a head coach who’s almost as competitive as the players on the field, or even more,” Bailey said. “I always knew that about him and heard that. But to sit down and talk to coach Payton, and (defensive coordinator) Rob Ryan and hear their thinking on the game — It was impressive.”
Corey White, a third-year cornerback from Stanford, has the No. 24 Bailey wore with the Broncos. For now, Bailey seems ambivalent about the number.
“I’m not going to do what (Eric) Decker did and pay $25K for a jersey,” Bailey said. “If he’s willing to give it me, I’ll take it. If not, I’ll take whatever else I can get.”
Bailey sold his Denver-area home three years ago as contract extensions were bogging down with then Broncos’ coach Josh McDaniels. He got an extension after John Elway took control of the Broncos’ football operations, but Bailey decided to settle in as a renter. His lease expired April 1, so Bailey has made a clean break from Denver.
It was pointed out to Bailey that the money the Broncos didn’t spend on him this season — he was scheduled to make $10 million before his release — went into the free-agent budget that brought in DeMarcus Ware ($13 million in 2014), Aqib Talib ($12 million), T.J. Ward ($7 million) and Emmanuel Sanders ($6 million).
“They spent more than they were going to give me,” Bailey said, laughing. “But they made good moves. I like all the players they signed.”
A Broncos-Saints Super Bowl in 2014?
“I got a feeling people are going to forget about the Saints,” he said. “We’ll fly quietly under the radar and people will take notice eventually. We’ve got to put the work in first.”
Mike Klis: firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/mikeklis