State Your Case: Is Champ Bailey a first-ballot choice?


Champ Bailey photo courtesy of Denver Broncos

Let’s not waste any time and get this out of the way now: Champ Bailey is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It may be 2019. It may be a year later. But he’s going to Canton.

Guaranteed.

Bailey is up for the Hall next year, and, if elected, would be just the sixth cornerback chosen to Canton in his first year of eligibility. But if he’s not – and, remember, safety Ed Reed and tight end Tony Gonzalez are eligible next year, too – no problem. He almost certainly is chosen in 2020.

So now the question: What are Bailey’s chances of making it as a first-ballot choice?

He certainly has the qualifications. He was a 12-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro who was a first-team all-decade choice, who once tied for the league lead in interceptions (2006) and who was named to the Denver Broncos’ 50th anniversary team.

Plus, he was considered one of the last shutdown corners.

“He had a special knack (as) a playmaker during the game and played consistently,” Denver GM John Elway said on last week’s Talk of Fame Network podcast. “To me, the idea of a Hall of Famer is the consistency with which they play, and that’s at the top level year in and year out. And when you look at Champ, he did that at the beginning of his career and throughout to the end … and was great every year.

“I always say this: Great players don’t play great all the time, but they play very, very good all the time and they just make great plays. And that’s what Champ did.”

He’s right, of course. Still, that doesn’t make him a lock for Year One.

First of all, there’s another qualified cornerback at the same position who’s been waiting in the queue, and that’s former New England star Ty Law. Law has more interceptions (53-52) and more championships (3-0) than Bailey, led the league twice (1998 and 2005) in pickoffs, was an all-decade choice and a critical figure in New England’s first Super Bowl championships when defense … not Tom Brady … was the story.

Granted, you could choose both, but that would be unusual. I know, we just elected a class with two wide receivers and two linebackers – three of whom were first-time eligibles – but it would be extraordinary for cornerbacks.

The last one chosen was Aeneas Williams, and that was 2014.

But it would not be unusual to choose a cornerback in his first year of eligibility. It happened with Sanders in 2011. It happened with Rod Woodson in 2009. And it happened with Darrell Green in 2008.

So, could it? Yes. Will it? Stay tuned.

Second, if he makes it in 2019 along with Reed and Gonzalez, that leaves only two spots for 10 finalists from a year ago, and, yeah, I know what you’re saying: So what? Well, so those guys are qualified, too (see three offensive linemen who were Top 10 finalists), and have been waiting for years.

So does Champ Bailey deserve to jump, say, an Alan Faneca and/or Kevin Mawae? All were first-team all-decade choices, and Faneca, like Law, played on a championship team.

OK, so let’s say you include all of them. Then where does that leave Tony Boselli, a top-10 finalist the past two years? Or Law? Or Steve Hutchinson, another all-decade choice who made it to the penultimate cut this year?

The feeling among selectors is that the five best candidates should be chosen, no matter how long they’ve been waiting, and that seems like a no-brainer. But how do you determine if Bailey was better than, say, Faneca, who was a nine-time Pro Bowler, eight-time All-Pro (including six first-team nominations), Super Bowl champ and all-decade choice?

Or maybe Mawae, who was an eight-time Pro Bowler, eight-time All-Pro (including seven first-team nominations), all-decade choice and a guy credited with reinventing a position – center – where voters have chosen only one Hall of Famer (Dermontti Dawson) the past 20 years.

As I said, the choice of Champ Bailey is not a tough one. He’s going to the Hall in his first or second year. Of that, I am certain … and the smart money is on him making it in 2019. But there’s a passel of candidates (and I haven’t even mentioned John Lynch, a finalist the past five years) he’d have to jump, and that’s where the indecision comes in.

No, there’s no indecision on Champ Bailey as a Hall of Famer. He will be one. The only question: Will it be his first year?

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20 Comments

  1. bachslunch
    August 14, 2018
    Reply

    No question Champ Bailey (6/12/00s) is a fully deserving HoFer and should encounter little turbulence on his way in. He is coming up against stiff competition this year, of course (Tony Gonzalez, Ed Reed) and there’s always a chance he may fall short on his way to being first ballot. But with Jason Taylor and Brian Urlacher having gained that distinction now, am thinking the chances he makes it in first time around are very good. If he falls short this year, he won’t wait long after that.

    Solid, enjoyable, perceptive write up as always, Clark. Fine reading.

    • August 14, 2018
      Reply

      Agree with all your points. My guess? He makes it next year and we keep some of these OL … and maybe Law … waiting. Thanks, as always, for the early review.

  2. brian wolf
    August 14, 2018
    Reply

    Champ will definitely get in soon enough. I am surprised Ty Law and Eric Allen arent already in. Law was the only cornerback I ever saw be effective against Marvin Harrison. Erich Barnes of the Giants/Browns should be in also. Barnes, Herb Adderly, and John Sample were some of the most physical cornerbacks the sixties produced and Sample had great postseason success as well; except for the 68 AFL Championship Game where Fred Biletnikoff ate him alive. Weeb Ewbank benched him, but let him start the Super Bowl where John played a great game. Other than maybe Lance Alworth, not many receivers were effective against him.

    • August 15, 2018
      Reply

      Brian, this could come down to Champ vs. Law. Hope not. Both belong. Of course, both could make it in same class, but then that would leave one OL … which is highly unfair. These guys are eminently qualified, but we keep pushing them to one side. Anyway, my fear is that the longer Law is out, the more likely he starts to move backward… which is happening to John Lynch now.

      • brian wolf
        August 15, 2018
        Reply

        Youre absolutely right Clark, Its sad that Offensive linemen and Safeties dont get more of their due in the Hall. At least pass rushers are getting in regularly but I still feel a lot of Interior defensive lineman arent getting their due. Lets hope the Hall can hold off on putting more Wide Receivers in, and give these forgotten positions more attention but I doubt it.

        • August 16, 2018
          Reply

          Only WR on the radar right now is Bruce, and he hasn’t made Top 10 yet. OL must star moving forward. Because it’s not a glamorous position we tend to overlook it … and that’s a mistake. Hoping to get 1-2 in next year.

    • bachslunch
      August 17, 2018
      Reply

      I’m on board with Ty Law as well (2/5/00s). Not so much with Eric Allen (1/6/none), though — some folks bring his name up as a deserving HoF snub, but I don’t get the argument there.

  3. Anonymous
    August 14, 2018
    Reply

    I always thought Bailey, though very good and at times great, was a tad overrated. Gave up a few too many big plays with the Redskins and was just horrendous in the postseason his last two years with Denver (yes, he was past his prime at least). Admittedly, I could just be a frustrated Redskins fan who watched Bailey toil every week on some very disappointing teams….and whether he belongs in the “G.O.A.T.” discussions or not, he’s unquestionably a hall of famer. He’ll probably go in on the first ballot. I wouldn’t feel too bad if Bailey were to wait a year or two and a hard-luck case like Atwater or Butler made their way in.

    • August 16, 2018
      Reply

      Atwater and Butler each first-team all-decade safeties. Combined they’ve been discussed once (it was Atwater). Can’t explain that.

  4. Brandon Baker
    August 14, 2018
    Reply

    What about other Broncos? Gradishar?Atwater? Bowled? The HOF seems to omit the most winning team since the 70’s. Champ should be in his 1st year. It should at be Champ, Gradishar and Bowden but they’ll never have 3 from the same team. .

    • August 16, 2018
      Reply

      Bowlen will make it as contributor … probably next week. Bailey is an early favorite for 2019 election, though he’s not a certainty. He is, however, a certainty for Canton. If not next year, then 2020. Don’t ask me about Gradishar. Don’t get it. But his fate is in hands of senior committee. I’m more concerned about resuscitating candidacy of a guy like Steve Atwater, first-team all-decade S who’s been discussed once.

    • bachslunch
      August 17, 2018
      Reply

      I’m on board with some Broncos snubs, though not all. Agreed with both your player names, Brandon: Gradishar (4/7/none) and Atwater (2/8/90s) for sure, plus I’d be fine with Karl Mecklenburg (4/6/none) and maybe Lionel Taylor.

      I’m kind of on the fence with Bowlen, but one could do worse, too. The biggest owner snubs strike me as Ralph Hay and Robert Kraft.

  5. Scott Dochterman
    August 17, 2018
    Reply

    Bailey obviously has the credentials. It’s difficult to argue against 12 Pro Bowls at a premium position.

    One area that’s been overlooked recently and has a major backlog is running back. I noticed Shaun Alexander and Priest Holmes weren’t even preliminary candidates last year. Alexander has 112 touchdowns and was the 2005 league MVP. Holmes was the NFL’s most dynamic player from 2001-04. Steven Jackson, Corey Dillon and Fred Taylor all have more than 11,000 career rushing yards and can’t even get a sniff. Eddie George and Jamal Lewis were dominant as power backs.

    Lord knows there are a ton of deserving players, and unless you guys can persuade the hall to loosen up the door by a few spots, very few guys will even get discussed.

    • bachslunch
      August 18, 2018
      Reply

      Not sure I agree re RB snubs. The major one right now is Edgerrin James, and he’s the only one with more than 12,000 career rushing yards. Except for a few short career high peak guys like Terrell Davis, reaching the 12K mark is pretty much mandatory these days. James is really the only glaring regular or Senior RB snub, am thinking; to me, there are far more neglected positions to address.

      • brian wolf
        August 18, 2018
        Reply

        Whats your position on Otis Anderson and Roger Craig,…Scott and Bachslunch ? When Anderson retired, all rushers with over 10,000 yrds got in the Hall and we all know injuries kept him from reaching at least 12,000. Craig was exceptional in all phases of being a RB including blocking and was on three championship teams. I would put these guys in before any newer guys though I like James and Dillon alot.

        • bachslunch
          August 19, 2018
          Reply

          I’m on the fence with Anderson and Craig at best. If they get in eventually, I probably won’t mind that much, but I’m not heavily sold on either. They are among the best Senior RBs not in along with guys like Chuck Foreman, Don Perkins, Rick Casares, Alan Ameche (if you like short caree guys, anyway), Larry Brown, Herschel Walker, Rickey Watters, and Ken Willard. But given how heavily represented the position is, I’m not heavily invested in getting any of them in. All nice players, though — but somebody’s got to be the best RB not in the HoF, and I’m okay with drawing the line here.

          The only currently eligible RB I feel strongly about is Edgerrin James given that he broke the 12K barrier. When they become eligible, I’ll also be fine with Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore. LeSean McCoy perhaps as well, depending on how many yards rushing he ends up with.

  6. Tom Chen
    August 18, 2018
    Reply

    Less deserving than Ty Law.

  7. Scott Dochterman
    August 18, 2018
    Reply

    I think at some point all of them should be debated. Anderson had more than 13,000 total yards, was a SB MVP, Rookie POY and Comeback POY. That’s pretty decorated for not getting even a sniff.

    Craig was good as part of the 49er machine, but I’m not sure he was better than someone like Ricky Waters, who has almost 15,000 total yards, 78 TDS and 5 Pro Bowls.

    I agree there are so many good players out there who are just as or more deserving, but if Shaun Alexander can rush for 100 touchdowns and score 112 overall and be a league MVP and can’t get discussed, the process needs a few tweaks.

    • bachslunch
      August 21, 2018
      Reply

      There actually are quite a few high peak-middle to short career guys from about the time of Shaun Alexander, such as Priest Holmes, Jamal Lewis, Eddie George, Tiki Barber, Clinton Portis, and Ricky WIlliams. Not to mention compilers who didn’t get to 12K rushing yards like Corey Dillon, Warrick Dunn, Thomas Jones, Fred Taylor, and Ahman Green. I think they’re all going to cancel each other out, though there’s always a chance one of them might sneak through someday.

  8. brian wolf
    August 21, 2018
    Reply

    Unfortunately, youre probably right. I am just glad I got to watch these backs playing in a time when ball control, time of possession and giving your defence a rest, actually meant something. Not to mention a running game being a quarterbacks best friend. And all these guys PLAYED week in and week out, without skipping games
    due to injury or being a mysterious game day scratch.

    With Gale Sayers and Terrell Davis being the epitome of great runners being elected to the Hall despite short, career ending injuries…can that help the cases for other great runners like William Andrews, Billy Simms and Chuck Foreman who also were felled by injuries when everyone knew they were on their way to great careers ? Sterling Sharpe is the most glaring example at Wide Receiver.

    Then theres the cases of Otis Anderson, Don Perkins, Rick Casares and possibly Alan Ameche…great runners who were in the Top Ten rushing of all time when they retired but got overlooked as time and HOF classes, came and went.

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