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.
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