The Pro's By Hal Greenblatt
Although NFL free agency officially begins at 4 pm on Tuesday, that has not stopped players who have been cut by their respective teams from signing new contracts with new teams. Veteran stalwarts such as former Cleveland Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Red Bryant have found new homes (and lots of money) with the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. Jackson and Bryant are not the only big name players looking for a new home.
Champ Bailey, released by Denver last Thursday after the Broncos declined to pay his $10 million salary, is such a player searching for a new home. Baily entered the league as the seventh overall pick in the 1999 draft. He had been a mainstay in the Denver secondary for the last ten years after coming over in a trade from Washington for running back Clinton Portis. The standout cornerback finds himself as an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career after an injury-plagued season in Denver.
So why are we discussing Champ Bailey just a few hours before the Eagles can sign any free agent? Well, the answer stems from Bailey’s comments to USA Today, where he said, “I just want to see what people will want me to do. My vision is to still play corner, but I’m a little more open-minded about the season I had last year...If a situation made sense to play safety, then I would consider it.”
And that brings us to the Eagles, a team always looking for veteran leadership and a team that is in desperate need of safety help. Prior to last season, Bailey has been a model of consistency. For his career, the future Hall of Famer has recorded 909 tackles, 52 interceptions, and has 203 passes defensed. At age 36, Bailey will not necessarily be looking for a payday but rather an opportunity to win.
The Birds may just present that opportunity for the 16-year veteran. But why would the Eagles want to take a chance on a 36-year old who played in just five games last season? The answer is simple really. Bailey will provide the secondary with much needed leadership. With young cornerbacks in Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Brandon Boykin, Bailey can be a wealth of knowledge and teach the intricacies of the position. Adding a player of Bailey’s ilk pays bigger dividends in the locker room, which translates to greater success on the field.
If the Eagles were to sign the veteran cornerback, he would be signed as a safety. Normally, that would be cause for concern, but as a true professional, Bailey should have little issues with adjusting to the position. Some notable players who have made the transition to safety later in their careers are Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders, who can both be found in Canton, Ohio, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In signing Bailey, the Eagles would be using Bailey as a stopgap for a position of need. He could be beneficial for the development of second-year safety Earl Wolff as well as any other player the Birds may draft.
Although the thought of signing the former Georgia Bulldog may seem outlandish, it may just make more sense than at first glance, and if the Bleacher Report story is correct, the former Denver Bronco may just be changing his address to Philadelphia.
The Con's by Matt Lombardo
This offseason finally represents perhaps the Eagles' greatest chance at finally solving the safety conundrum that has plagued the organization since Brian Dawkins was allowed to finish his career in Denver via free agency in 2009.
Names such as Jairus Byrd, TJ Ward, Chris Clemons, Malcom Jenkins, and Mike Mitchell are just a few of the marquee players at the position available at perhaps the strongest free agent safety class in half a decade.
Yet, thre is suddenly whispers in the farthest fringe outposts of online sports media that the Eagles could be pursuing free agent corner Champ Bailey to convert to safety, after the 14-year veteran was a cap casualty of the Denver Broncos last week.
Given the Eagles targeted strategy both in free agency and the draft last offseason and the philosophy of building through the draft that has been employed by Howie Roseman, Chip Kelly, Tom Gamble and the front office, adding Bailey makes little sense to the long-term development of either the safety position or the team itself.
At age 36, Bailey would simply be a stop gap at the safety position, rather than a long-term solution that the position is in desperate need of after the revolving door of the post-Dawkins era.
Sure, Bailey would add a much needed veteran voice to a locker room that lost it's best elder-statesman in Jason Avant when the team released the receiver last week, but adding a defensive back at this stage of his career and making a position change doesn't help the team's long-term prospects at the position.
Now, if Bailey would take a significant pay cut to come to Philadelphia and be the team's fourth cornerback, that is a different conversation entirely.
However, it's unlikely that Bailey would welcome that role - or a contract worth one-tenth of the $10 million Denver was due to pay him - to move from the defending AFC champions to Philadelphia.
The Eagles have the opportunity to finally bag their white whale at the safety position, but Bailey is not that whale.
Hal Greenblatt covers the Eagles for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter: @HMGreenblatt