'Skins could use 'franchise' tag on CB

Champ Bailey, one of the league's top cornerbacks, was surprisingly given permission by the Redskins to seek a trade.

Updated: February 16, 2004, 11:43 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

In a stunning move that certainly grabbed the attention of league general managers on an otherwise serene Friday afternoon, the Washington Redskins have granted four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey permission to initiate trade discussions with other franchises, ESPN.com has learned.

Champ Bailey
Bailey

Bailey's agent, Jack Reale, said he spoke to "seven or eight" teams Friday after receiving a call Thursday night from Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who agreed that Bailey can speak to other clubs.

"I think they're curious to see what the interest level is," Reale said.

Bailey, 25, just finished the final season of his original NFL contract and technically is eligible for unrestricted free agency, although the Redskins could limit his options.

The move could signal an impasse in negotiations, aimed at extending the contract of the five-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowl performer, or it might reflect any number of potential scenarios. Among them: The team could attempt to obtain draft choices to use in acquiring quarterback Mark Brunell from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Or, having recently signed strong-side linebacker LaVar Arrington to a blockbuster contract, the Redskins may have decided they cannot afford to have two such highly paid defenders.

Arrington on Dec. 28 signed an eight-year contract worth $60 million-$68 million, including a signing bonus of $15.5 million and option bonus of $4.5 million.

Even when players are granted permission to speak with other teams, trades are rarely consummated, and the Redskins reserve the prerogative to reject any offers. But the fact Snyder would put a player of Bailey's stature on the trade block certainly sent ripples through the NFL.

"My first reaction," said one AFC general manager, "was that it was a joke. Once I found out it was [legitimate], I mean, how could I ignore it? The guy is only 25 years old, is a bona fide star in the league, and plays a 'must have' position. You've got to at least find out the price of doing business."

Snyder already had raised the possibility with other NFL owners of trading his star cornerback.

Snyder is reportedly in discussions with Detroit Lions president Matt Millen to send Bailey to the Lions, where his younger brother, linebacker Boss Bailey, plays, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Snyder's proposal is believed to include the Lions sending their first- and second-round picks in the draft, as well as an additional pick or player to Washington in exchange for Bailey, the paper reported Monday.

While it is unlikely Detroit would be willing to part with so much, Millen told the Free Press on Sunday he is willing to continue discussions with the Redskins and Real.

The Lions are expected to have an estimated $12.5 million in salary-cap room, likely making them among the top candidates for a Bailey trade, accorinding to the Detroit paper.

"He's as good a player as it gets," Millen told the Free Press. "He's young, he's talented, he's got character. He's a lot of things.

"He's also expensive. There's a lot more to it than just, 'Hey, let's go get a good player.' "

Snyder has also casually mentioned to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, for instance, that Bailey might be available for the right price.

Redskins chief negotiator Eric Schaffer huddled with Reale in Atlanta early this week and essentially made an offer similar to the team's proposal to Bailey during training camp last summer. That proposal was reportedly for a nine-year contract worth about $55 million and featuring total bonus money of approximately $14 million. It was rejected by Bailey and Reale and, sources said, was no better received this time around.

Reale said Snyder "made it very clear that the coaching staff considers Champ an elite player" but that the two sides "simply disagree" over the parameters of a long-term contract.

It will not be surprising, given new events, if Reale is a very popular man next week, when general managers and even some owners convene in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Scouting Combine workouts.

The Redskins still reserve the right to designate Bailey as a "franchise" player, a move that would significantly limit his mobility in the free-agency period, which begins March 3. And if Washington cannot strike an extension with Bailey, or receive a trade offer it considers viable, using the "franchise" tag is the strongest likelihood.

But the "franchise" designation for a cornerback carries a $6.801 million impact against the Washington salary cap and the Redskins probably would be forced to carry that late into the summer. Historically, at least, applying a "franchise" designation often creates acrimony between team and player.

Or, if the "franchise" tag is exercised, Bailey could quickly accept the guaranteed money, decline any attempts to sign a subsequent long-term deal, and force Snyder to carry a very unwieldy cap number on the cornerback for 2004.

The player chosen seventh overall in the 1999 draft, and universally acknowledged as one of the NFL's premier players at one of its highest-profile positions, Bailey was elected to the Pro Bowl each of the past four seasons. The former University of Georgia star has never missed a game in five seasons, making 80 straight appearances.

Bailey has recorded 313 tackles and 18 interceptions during his career and most talent evaluators agree he fits the term "shut-down cornerback."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Information from The Associated Press and the Detriot Free Press was used in this report.

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