DENVER — Champ Bailey fantasized about being wined and dined as the prize of the 2011 free agent class. He dreamed about jetting across the country to be wooed and wowed.
In the end, though, the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback excused the Broncos for pulling a four-year contract offer off the table back in October and decided to stay in Denver even though he might have made more money on the open market.
"One thing I've learned, the grass ain't always greener," Bailey said Tuesday after signing a four-year deal with Denver worth more than $40 million. "I could go to an organization that looks like they're ready and then they're not ready and then I'm miserable because I'm around a lot of unfamiliar faces and in an unfamiliar place.
"I thought about that and I thought about being on the market. But all in all, it didn't really take me to forgive them. There's new people in charge up there. I know that I could have gotten something worked out. Once Josh McDaniels left, things did work out, didn't it?"
One reason he didn't test free agency, he said, was the league's labor uncertainty.
The sides are meeting in Washington, D.C., under federal mediation in a bid to find common ground before the current labor deal expires at the end of the day March 3. The union has said it believes team owners want to lock out the players as soon as the next day, which could threaten the 2011 season.
"There is no certainty once March 4 rolls around," Bailey said. "That played a role in my decision, to make sure something got done. I don't know what's going to happen after March 3, because of the CBA and all of that stuff. You don't know how teams are going to react to free agents and what's going to be out there. I just figured if I can, get it done.
"But, it's really what I wanted all along anyway."
Bailey remains one of the league's premiere shutdown cornerbacks even at age 32. He just played in his 10th Pro Bowl, a record for cornerbacks, but the one big void in his career is a trip to the Super Bowl.
"When you talk about awards, things you can take home to remember your career, the ring is the most important thing," Bailey said on a conference call with media that cover the Broncos. "I want to get that ring, and I want to do it here."
Bailey, who has only been to the playoffs three times in his 12 NFL seasons, said he thinks the Broncos are in capable hands under new coach John Fox, who has deep defensive roots, and can quickly halt a five-year playoff drought.
"It may sound stupid, but in a few years, hopefully you guys will look back and say, 'Well, Champ said they could turn around pretty quick,'" Bailey said. "So hopefully this thing will get turned around a lot faster than we all expect."
Bailey and pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil, who missed last season with a torn chest muscle a year after leading the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009, are now the cornerstones of Denver's massive defensive makeover.
"Champ is truly one of the NFL's elite players, a 10-time Pro Bowler who is playing at the absolute highest level," Broncos football chief John Elway wrote on Twitter. "The commitment and loyalty that Champ has shown to the Broncos, the city of Denver and this region is exemplary. We're fortunate to have Champ with the Broncos for a long time. This is a GREAT day for our entire organization and our fans."
Even though most teams only throw his way a couple times a game, Bailey's 48 career interceptions rank first among cornerbacks since he entered the league as the seventh overall pick by the Washington Redskins in 2009 and his 183 pass breakups are tops among players during the past 12 years.
"Signing Champ was a top priority this offseason," general manager Brian Xanders said in a statement. "He has shown incredible loyalty to the Broncos organization and this community in his seven seasons with the club. His value on and off the field is immeasurable, and we couldn't be happier that he is positioned to finish his Hall of Fame career as a Bronco."
Bailey said he appreciated Elway's involvement in re-signing him and also the Broncos' willingness to extend an offer to him just four months shy of his 33rd birthday.
"It means a lot, because you don't see it happen very often. But I've got to be honest, not to sound arrogant or anything, but I don't come along very often, either. ... and I appreciate the fact that they realize that and they realize how important it was for me to stay here."
It had started to look as if the Broncos would lose Bailey this offseason. Even when they reopened talks with his representatives earlier this month, Bailey decided to try to sell his Littleton home that he bought for $1.6 million a few years ago.
"Well, you know what, everything that you say publicly has something to do with negotiations," Bailey acknowledged. "It always does. Jay Cutler putting his house up a few years ago. I mean, c'mon. It all has something to do with negotiations."
Bailey would still like to sell his house. Maybe he's intent on downsizing because when he was asked if he'd be interested in upgrading to the mansion of NBA star Carmelo Anthony, who was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks in a blockbuster trade Tuesday, he said no way.
"Oh, no. That's too much. I've been in that house," Bailey said. "Oh no, that's too much."
Bailey's deal was welcome news in a city that was hit hard by the departures of Anthony and homegrown star Chauncey Billups, which followed the recent retirement of hockey great Peter Forsberg after a short-lived comeback attempt with the Colorado Avalanche.
Bailey said deep down he never wanted to leave Denver.
"I feel like I'm a Denver native. I'm not from here, but it feels good here. I feel like I'm home. That played a big part in my decision to stay, because I want to help make this city proud," he said. "It's been a while. I don't think we've done anything good since the (2005 AFC) championship game. The fans deserve it, and I want to be a part of making it happen for them."