Tag keeps CB from becoming free agent

Updated: February 18, 2004, 11:28 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, already given permission to seek a trade, was designated a franchise player Wednesday by the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins had until Feb. 24 to make the move, but it became inevitable after contract talks reached a stalemate last week.

The franchise tag keeps Bailey from becoming a free agent when his contract expires next month. It also means the Redskins have to make him a one-year, $6.8 million tender -- the average of the top five players at his position.

That will put the Redskins slightly over the NFL's salary cap. They have to get under the cap by March 3, and they can do so by cutting players. Bruce Smith, who said he would retire after breaking the career sacks record last season, heads the list of probable cuts.

Bailey is one of the team's most popular players, but talks for a new contract have made virtually no progress. The Redskins offered him a nine-year, $55 million contract with $14.7 million in bonus money before the start of last season, but Bailey had problems with several clauses in the deal as well as its overall structure.

The Redskins gave Bailey's agent, Jack Reale, permission to talk to other teams late last week. Reale plans to gauge interest in Bailey at this week's scouting combine in Indianapolis.

"We've got the ball rolling with several different teams," Reale said.

One of those teams is Detroit, where Bailey's younger brother, Boss, is coming off a strong season as a rookie linebacker. Also, Detroit has hired defensive backs coach George Catavolos, who coached Bailey in Washington the past two seasons.

"I'm hoping that we can discuss this face-to-face in Indianapolis," Detroit coach Steve Mariucci said. "If the Redskins are willing to talk about it, we're willing to listen. Champ Bailey is worth discussing. There's no question about that."

If the Redskins don't trade Bailey, they could have a difficult time pursuing new players when the free agent market opens next month. The salary cap space occupied by Bailey's $6.8 million will be needed to fill holes at defensive line, running back and safety -- as well as at the cornerback spot vacated by Bailey.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press