- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Washington Redskins are close to trading cornerback Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos for running back Clinton Portis, a potential blockbuster deal of two Pro Bowl players that would dynamically alter the makeup of both franchises.

Exact terms of the trade have not been finalized, but a source with knowledge of the negotiations said the Redskins are willing to include their second-round pick in April’s draft as part of their offer. That extra request from the Broncos, some believed, would be a sticking point to completing a deal.

Once the teams agree to the parameters of the trade, the Broncos and agent Jack Reale still must come to terms on a new contract for Bailey. But Reale has said he is confident all of the teams in the running for the Pro Bowl cornerback will meet his demands.

NFL sources said they do not expect a Bailey trade to be finalized until early next week, and Redskins vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said he is still talking with two other clubs — believed to be the Detroit Lions and New York Jets — about a deal. No transaction can become official until the league’s trading period opens March3.

“It’s in the discussion phase, just like it is with two other teams that we have,” Cerrato said of a Bailey-to-Denver trade. “We have not zeroed in on one team.”

The source with knowledge of the negotiations, though, said Washington is focused on completing the trade with the Broncos. Reale said he has not been told by either team that a deal is done. Agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Portis, declined to comment yesterday.

The Redskins appear to be so confident they will deal Bailey in the coming week that they already are searching for his replacement. NFL sources said Washington is seriously interested in acquiring Seattle veteran Shawn Springs as an unrestricted free agent. Springs, a seven-year veteran who went to Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, would team with Fred Smoot as the Redskins’ starting cornerback tandem.

If the deal with Denver is consummated, the Redskins will receive one of the game’s most-prolific young running backs in Portis, while at the same time clearing Bailey’s $6.8million salary cap figure from their books. Portis, who turns 23 in September, has rushed for at least 1,500 yards and scored at least 14 touchdowns in each of his two professional seasons. He’s also under contract for the next two years at the league’s minimum salary ($380,000 in 2004, $455,000 in 2005).

Still, Washington would be giving up plenty to acquire Portis. Bailey, a four-time Pro Bowl player at age 25, is perhaps the best cornerback in the NFL. And if they trade away their second-round pick for Portis, having already given up their third-round pick for quarterback Mark Brunell, the Redskins would be left with only two selections in April’s draft (a first-rounder and a fifth-rounder).

Asked about the Bailey-for-Portis trade during an interview on Sporting News Radio yesterday, Washington coach Joe Gibbs said, “That would be a possibility.”

“That’s one that you look at and you try and figure some way of getting it done,” Gibbs added. “We’ve had three really serious negotiations ongoing and, the problem with this thing is you can’t consummate anything until March 2. So the best way for me to answer that question, and being truthful, is we have a lot of stuff on the table right now and we’re trying to figure out what’s the best thing to do. [A Bailey-for-Portis trade] would be something that, obviously, we would seriously look at.”

Though Portis’ low-paying contract would be well-received by the Redskins, it may not hold up for long. Portis has been clamoring for a new deal from the Broncos all season, and two weeks ago at the Pro Bowl he told reporters he might sit out the start of training camp if Denver didn’t renegotiate his contract.

But unlike Bailey, who had the franchise tag placed on him last week by Washington, Portis has two years remaining on his current deal and thus has no real leverage in the trade discussions.

During an interview yesterday with Denver radio station KKFN-AM, Portis spoke as if he assumes he will be traded.

“I’m going to continue to go out and play football for somebody,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason. Like I said, I enjoyed playing for the Broncos. If this is the end of my stint, I had a great time.”

Originally a second-round pick by Denver, Portis won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2002 with 1,508 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. He followed that up with a sensational sophomore season, rushing for 1,591 yards and 14 touchdowns despite missing three games with injuries. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound back finished the year with six-straight 100-yard games, but Broncos coach Mike Shanahan apparently believes he can get production out of one of the other running backs on his roster.

Staff writer Jody Foldesy contributed to this report.

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