Broncos back just wants to get paid

Updated: February 24, 2004, 5:06 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Denver Broncos have discussed trading Clinton Portis to the Redskins for Champ Bailey, and all indications are a deal will be consummated.

Schlereth: Win-win Situation
Mark Schlereth
This trade would be a win-win situation for both the organizations and players involved.

In Washington, the Redskins are transitioning from Steve Spurrier's high-octane offensive philosophy to Joe Gibbs' system, which is predicated on the run. To make that system successful, Gibbs already picked up veteran quarterback Mark Brunell. Then, to make it all work, he needed a premiere running back who could carry the ball at least 20-25 times per game to help control the clock and set up play-action -- insert Clinton Portis, who has amassed more than 1,500 yards in each of his two NFL seasons.

Meanwhile in Denver, while Portis is an explosive, speedy back, the Broncos believe that he is also somewhat a product of their system. Afterall, Portis comes from a long lineage of successful running backs in Denver. They feel that they can continue to prosper by plugging a back with similar attributes. Case in point: in Quentin Griffin's Week 16 start, he rushed 28 times for 136 yards against the Colts.

After getting torched by the Indianapolis Colts' offense in 2003's AFC Wild Card matchup, coach Mike Shanahan was forced to take a good, hard look at his defense. Remember, that game's highlights included Peyton Manning throwing for 377 yards and five touchdowns, Marvin Harrison catching seven passes for 133 yards and Brandon Stokley catching four passes for 144 yards.

By picking up Champ Bailey, arguably the best cover-guys in the league, the Broncos are getting a lock-down corner who can shut down one side of the field. That enables them to roll coverage over and help the other cornerback and/or free him up to bring blitzes and mimic some of what the New England Patriots do with Ty Law. (Just two weeks after the Broncos were lit up by the Colts, the Pats secondary held Harrison to just three catches and Law intercepted Manning three times.)

So, both Portis and Bailey not only fill specific needs, they significantly upgrade weaknesses on their new, respective teams.

Mark Schlereth played on the offensive line for 13 NFL seasons with the Redskins and Broncos. He played for coach Joe Gibbs for four seasons in Washington.

But does Portis know something others don't? Apparently he considers his departure from Denver a certainty.

"It was enjoyable playing with the Broncos," Portis told radio station KKFN-AM in an interview Monday night. "If this is the end of my stay, I had a great time."

Portis said he considers himself the best running back in football -- he rushed for 1,591 yards last year despite missing three games with chest and ankle injuries -- and he'd like to be paid as such. Portis has two years remaining on the contract he signed as a second-round draft pick in 2002. He made $300,000 last season.

The Broncos-Redskins talks amount to a swap of two Pro Bowl players upset with their contracts. In addition, Denver would possibly receive one of Washington's two first-round picks in the April draft, ESPN.com has learned.

If the trade becomes official, it would be announced March 3, the day the league's trading period begins.

Meanwhile, the Jets jumped in the act for Bailey on Tuesday, offering a package of defensive end Shaun Ellis, tight end Anthony Becht and tailback LaMont Jordan to Washington, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reports.

The Portis-for-Bailey deal would make sense because the Redskins went last season without an every-down running back, a must in the run-oriented system favored by new coach Joe Gibbs. Trung Canidate led the Redskins with 600 yards rushing, followed by Rock Cartwright (411), Ladell Betts (255) and Chad Morton (216).

Jack Reale, Bailey's agent, said the Redskins also have talked with Detroit, Houston, Chicago and Arizona.

"We have had preliminary discussions with the Broncos and with other teams as well, just on the broad outlines of a contract," Reale said. "I can't go into detail until I know what team we're going to be dealing with."

Redskins director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato said Tuesday that he also is talking to four other teams concerning Bailey, including one that contacted him Tuesday morning.

The Redskins have protected Bailey, who can become a free agent on March 3, by designating him their franchise player. That means the Redskins must make him a one-year, $6.8 million tender, the average of the top five players at his position.

Portis has two years remaining on the contract he signed as a second-round draft pick in 2002. Displeased with the money he made last season, he has hinted he might be a holdout when training camp starts unless the Broncos rework his deal.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE