- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey yesterday put the onus on the Washington Redskins to resolve his expiring contract and keep him off the free-agent market next spring.

“I signed [for] five [years], and whether [the Redskins] talk to me before or after [the deal expires], that’s up to [them],” Bailey said after practice at Redskin Park. “You run your business like you want to. I know what I signed, and I know I’m here for five years. If you want it to be longer, come talk to me. But if you don’t, I’ll be gone after five years.”

Neither the Redskins nor Bailey’s camp have done more than preliminary work to address his status, NFL sources said. But with Washington pretty much done assembling the 2003 roster — and no first-round pick to sign — the club now has more than two months to focus on resolving the long-term futures of Bailey and linebacker LaVar Arrington.

Meanwhile, newly signed defensive end Regan Upshaw will undergo arthroscopic surgery on the knee he had surgically reconstructed last summer. Upshaw sat out last week’s practices with swelling in the knee and an MRI revealed some loose material was causing his irritation.

“This [surgery] is basically a good thing for me, because it will allow my knee to feel all the way back to normal,” Upshaw said. “We’ve got a long season coming up. There’s no sense in playing a whole season with having something wrong with you. That’s torture.”

Upshaw tore his ACL in Oakland’s offseason practices last summer, then missed all but five regular-season games for the eventual AFC champions. That tough rehabilitation makes him unconcerned about the current one, projected at only a few weeks.

“I bounced back from an ACL in four months,” Upshaw said. “You think I’m concerned about getting a piece of plaque taken off my knee? That’s a two- to three-week period where you’re not training at your high level. After that, you can train high.”

Bailey has fulfilled expectations after being selected seventh overall in 1999, setting himself up in free agency as a premier player at one of the game’s premium positions. Conversations with people around the league put his potential signing bonus on the open market at $15million to $20million.

The largest signing bonus Washington ever has paid is $13million, given this year to wide receiver Laveranues Coles, a restricted free agent of the New York Jets.

The Redskins, after acquiring their 15th veteran of the offseason yesterday, defensive end Peppi Zellner, still had about $2.3million of salary cap space. Teams generally like to leave at least $1million for injury purposes, so Washington has room to work with Bailey or Arrington. The latter is under contract in coming years, but at such high cap figures that the club probably has to overhaul his deal.

Bailey, still just 24 after exiting Georgia as a junior, is considered one of the game’s best cover corners. His combination of speed, size, anticipation and a growing knowledge of the game allows him to shut down an opponent’s No.1 receiver and gives a defense the leverage to experiment. He has played in the last three Pro Bowls.

Cornerbacks are among the NFL’s best-paid players. This year a solid but unspectacular corner, Dre Bly, received a five-year, $24.5million deal, including $6.5million to sign, from Detroit to leave St. Louis.

There is speculation that Washington is watching the deal Chris McAlister eventually gets from Baltimore. McAlister was drafted three slots behind Bailey in 1999 and has emerged as an outstanding, though not Pro Bowl caliber, corner. But being the Ravens’ franchise player will limit McAlister’s deal; he is expected to end up with a signing bonus in the $10million range.

The Redskins could have a difficult time giving Bailey the franchise tag. Doing so would require about $6million of cap space, and the club currently has about $78million committed to its top 51 players in 2004 — the eighth-highest figure in the league and at least a few million dollars over the projected cap. This year’s cap is $74million and should rise several million next season.

In 2001 the Redskins briefly considered placing the franchise tag on quarterback Brad Johnson but didn’t have the cap space to give the tactic serious thought.

Bailey, who was back at practice after finishing his second-to-last semester at Georgia last week, was unfazed as he discussed his situation. He said, “Obviously nobody’s really making any effort right now,” but added that it didn’t bother him. He said he would still consider Washington if he became a free agent but acknowledged that market forces would make his return at that point highly unlikely.

“We all know that,” Bailey said. “There’s no denying that. But I can’t determine what happens. It’s all up to [owner Dan Snyder].”

Notes — Zellner agreed to a one-year, $555,000 deal, which included a $25,000 signing bonus and, qualifying for the veterans’ cap credit, counted $475,000 against the cap. The former Dallas Cowboy is slated to back up Renaldo Wynn on the left side. He should be in this morning to take a physical and sign the contract. … The second annual Steve Spurrier Redskins Classic golf tournament will be next Tuesday at Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg. Proceeds go to the Leadership Council, the team’s charity arm. The event is sold out.

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