- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Like most cornerbacks in the NFL, Champ Bailey is confident.

When Bailey says he’s the best corner in the league, he is sincere. When he says he’s one of the top two or three defensive players, regardless of position, he truly believes it.

So when Bailey says he expects his next contract with the Washington Redskins to treat him as such, he means it.

“Whatever I ask for, they’re probably not going to give it to me,” Bailey said with a sly grin. “I don’t even know what [my first offer] is yet. It’s probably going to be something they look at and go, ‘Wow,’ but I know I’m worth it. I’m not going to ask for anything I’m not worth.”

The Redskins soon will find out just what Bailey’s contract extension demands are. Agent Jack Reale was supposed to meet with club officials in the next few days, but NFL sources said the initial meeting was pushed back to sometime around Washington’s Aug.16 home exhibition opener against New England.

Once negotiations commence, both sides expect to talk about the kind of numbers only a handful of players have seen.

“I feel like I’m the No.1 corner now,” Bailey said. “So I should be paid as one of the top two or three defensive players in the league.”

The Redskins aren’t commenting on Bailey’s situation, but if he gets what he wants, the 25-year-old will find himself in the company of a pair of well-paid players: Baltimore’s Ray Lewis and Chicago’s Brian Urlacher, both middle linebackers.

Lewis established the benchmark for defensive players last year when he signed a seven-year, $50million contract that included a $19million signing bonus. Urlacher reached a similar deal with the Bears in June: nine years, $56million, $19million in bonuses ($13million up front to sign).

Ty Law owns the largest signing bonus given to a cornerback: $14.2million handed out by the Patriots in 1999.

Clearly, Bailey believes he deserves more. It remains to be seen whether Redskins owner Dan Snyder agrees, but there’s no question Bailey’s teammates hold him in the highest regard.

“He’s the best,” safety Matt Bowen said. “I haven’t seen anyone, even on film, with that type of feet and that type of mental toughness and dedication and ball skills. I mean, he’s the complete package.”

The Redskins knew they were getting a potentially great player when they made Bailey the seventh pick overall of the 1999 draft and handed him a five-year contract with a $5.2million signing bonus. What they might not have known was how quickly the former University of Georgia star would realize that potential.

In just four professional seasons, Bailey has made the Pro Bowl three times. He intercepted three passes in the fifth game of his career, becoming the youngest player to pull off that feat.

And despite his relatively young age, Bailey became the longest-tenured Redskin after Dan Wilkinson’s release last week.

Bailey has tried to take on more of a leadership role of late, especially following Darrell Green’s retirement at the end of last season. That said, he’s having a hard time accepting his sudden veteran status.

“It’s funny. I go in [to team meetings], and I’m really not the old man, but I’ve been around the longest,” he said. “And everybody looks at me like, ‘Champ, you’re the oldest. Say something.’”

Bailey will have to act like a veteran this season when it comes to his contract talks. He has seen negotiations drag over an entire season and become a distraction for teammates. Tackle Jon Jansen’s ordeal last year comes to mind, and Bailey is committed not to let that happen.

“I’m going to try to stay out of it as much as I can because I know the business side of it can really stress you out,” Bailey said. “[But] it’s your life you’re talking about. I’m not going to say it’s easy. I’m definitely going to be aware of it going on.”

In an ideal world, Bailey would like to have his new deal in place before the Sept.4 season opener against the Jets. That may be too optimistic a deadline. It seems inevitable the Redskins will take contract talks into the regular season as they attempt to find a way to re-sign one of their top players without breaking the bank. (The decision to cut Wilkinson was made in part to help set aside money for Bailey).

This much is certain: As much as Bailey wants to get his just deserts, his desire to remain a Redskin is even greater. For that reason, he says, the last thing he wants to do is remain unsigned for the entire season and wind up an unrestricted free agent, available to the highest bidder.

Of course, it should be obvious by now Champ Bailey won’t settle for anything less than what he believes he deserves.

“I know Dan has a way of trying to get the players he wants and putting up any price,” he said. “But he’s going to have to put up a big price to get me.”

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