Champ Bailey agrees to 2-year deal with Saints

Broncos Bye Bye Bailey Football

When free agency started on March 11, the Saints immediately addressed a dearth of turnovers in 2013 by acquiring former Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, whose 22 career interceptions since joining the NFL in 2009 are the most among players at his position.

They landed another pick-off artist on Friday, agreeing to terms on a two-year, free-agent deal with 12-time Pro Bowl defensive back Roland “Champ” Bailey, the team announced.

League sources familiar with the situation told The Advocate about the deal with Bailey about 30 minutes before the Saints’ announcement. ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport later reported the contract was worth up to $7 million.

Bailey’s 52 career interceptions are the third-most among active NFL players. The three-time All-Pro and future Hall of Famer had a productive 2012, but the former Bronco is coming off the worst year of his career — a preseason foot injury limited Bailey to just eight games in 2013, three of which were in the playoffs and included Denver’s loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Nonetheless, it’s definitely possible that Bailey will challenge for the spot opposite Lewis, who led the Saints with four interceptions and was second on the team with nine pass break-ups.

“We are excited to be able to add a future Hall of Fame player with the addition of Champ Bailey,” Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said. “His career accomplishments mirror that of his high character, and he’s a very prideful and competitive player who we believe will add to our defense. Having spent time with him recently and in our discussions with him, I know that he’s thrilled to be joining the New Orleans Saints and starting a new chapter in his professional life.”

Other cornerbacks competing for the job of complementing Lewis are 2012 fifth-round pick Corey White, who took over starting duties after the now-released Jabari Greer suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 12; and Patrick Robinson, who is heading into his fifth campaign with the Saints but hurt his knee in the second game of 2013 and missed the rest of the year.

If Bailey doesn’t win that job yet still makes the roster, there’s no question the Saints will hope he provides heaps of veteran guidance to the secondary. Aside from the aforementioned players, other pieces to the secondary include safety Kenny Vaccaro, entering his second year; cornerback Rod Sweeting, also a rookie in 2013; and cornerback Trevin Wade, a seventh-round pick by Cleveland in 2012 who joined New Orleans as a free agent in the middle of last season.

The Saints in March extended a one-year, $1.4 million tender to restricted free-agent safety Rafael Bush, who’s been with the Saints since 2012. But Bush recently signed an offer sheet from the Atlanta Falcons, and the Saints have to match it by April 8 or the safety will leave them for no compensation. Bush played with Bailey in Denver in 2011 and in the 2012 preseason.

Bailey, who has 15 seasons of NFL experience and will be 36 in June, spent his first five years in the league with Washington and was traded to Denver in 2004.
He has four career interception returns for touchdowns, the last of which was in 2006. That year, he picked off a career-high 10 passes for a personal best 162 return yards.

Denver released Bailey at the beginning of March to save about $10 million in salary-cap space.

Saints coach Sean Payton recently said cornerbacks talented in coverage and at creating turnovers are always at a premium in the NFL. Bailey in his best years would’ve certainly fit that bill for a defense that finished fourth overall and second against the pass in 2013 but also fourth from the bottom in takeaways, of which New Orleans had 19.

Bailey’s visit to New Orleans began being widely reported upon on Tuesday. Those reports were prompted by Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis’ decision to post a photo of himself posing next to Bailey at team headquarters on the social media service Instagram, and there were accounts of the two working out together later in the week.

In an interview on Wednesday with The Advocate’s content partners at WWL-TV, Lewis said introducing a player like Bailey to the roster “would definitely help me uplift my game.”

“He’s a great guy,” Lewis said. “He’s been doing it for some years now, Pro Bowl-caliber player and whenever you have an opportunity to add guys like that to the roster, it’s always beneficial.

“I’ve got a lot of faith in Rod Sweeting, Patrick Robinson, Corey White — the guys we have, but (being around Bailey) would definitely help me uplift my game. … He’s a championship guy, so anytime you’ve got a guy like that in your locker room, it only boosts you further to your goals.”

Saints players flocked to Twitter to celebrate the acquisition of Bailey.

Byrd tweeted, “Yessir! ..welcome to the squad,” tacking on his new teammate’s handle, @champbailey. White added, “Grew up watching the (future Hall of Famer) Champ Bailey now I have (a) great opportunity to play with him. Glad to have him (be) part of (the) #WhoDatNation.”

Tight end Benjamin Watson — who, like Bailey, attended the University of Georgia for college — tweeted, “Great to have another (Georgia Bulldog) on the team!”

Running back Khiry Robinson chimed in, “(Lewis) on one side and Champ Bailey on the other, Oh yeah WHODATnation it’s down this Season! WE COMING! YOOO Bless!!”
Fox 8’s Sean Fazende and ESPN’s Mike Triplett were the first to report Bailey’s deal with the Saints.

USC’s Marqise Lee says he’ll visit Saints, rival Panthers

There likely will be more, but at the very minimum, the Saints are hosting one wide receiver who many think could be selected late in the first round of the 2014 draft in May.

USC’s Marqise Lee told the program Pro Football Talk Live he has visits set up with New Orleans and its NFC South rival, the Carolina Panthers. The Saints have the 27th overall pick of the upcoming draft, and the Panthers have the 28th.

Lee also said he’s worked out privately for “a couple of teams” but didn’t disclose who they were.

The 6-foot, 192-pound Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012 and won the Biletnikoff Award for best receiver in the nation. His quarterback was Matt Barkley.

But his numbers were significantly less impressive his junior year with the Trojans: 57 grabs, 791 yards and four scores during a campaign in which coach Lane Kiffin was fired after five games.

Lee blamed his drop in production on leg injuries that kept him out of three games. “I didn’t have my full on season from that end,” he said to PFT Live.

He also mentioned the battle for starting quarterback at the beginning of the 2013 campaign between Cody Kessler (who won) and Max Wittek (the backup) as a negative factor. “Even that was kind of a struggle as far as getting that repetition and getting that flow with the quarterback,” Lee remarked. “I didn’t get the chance to really get that going.”

At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Lee clocked a 40-yard dash of 4.52 seconds — the fastest time in the event among wideouts was 4.33, and the slowest was 4.75. His broad jump of 10 feet, 7 inches was the best at his position.

According to CBSSports.com draft pundit Rob Rang, one of Lee’s top strengths is explosive straight-line speed that makes it difficult for cornerbacks to press him. Weaknesses are his slight frame and the fact that he struggled with injuries in 2013, “raising legitimate questions about his ability to remain healthy against NFL competition,” Rang wrote.

The Saints for now only have three receivers with meaningful NFL experience: veteran Marques Colston, second-year player Kenny Stills and third-year player Joe Morgan.

Colston caught 75 passes for 943 yards and five touchdowns in 15 regular-season games in 2013. He is the franchise leader in receptions (607), receiving yards (8,337) and receiving touchdowns (63), but coach Sean Payton recently said Colston battled through foot soreness for much of last season.

Stills — with 32 catches for 641 yards and five touchdowns — led the NFL in yards per reception (20).

Morgan sat out the 2011 and 2013 seasons with knee injuries; but, in 2012, he had three touchdowns and 379 yards on 10 grabs. His jaw-dropping 37.9 yards per catch would’ve easily been the best in the NFL if he had enough grabs to qualify for the league’s leader boards.

Meanwhile, the Panthers’ top two receivers at the moment — Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood — are far from the NFL’s most decorated.

Drew Brees tapped for Tulane President’s Medal; Saints Hall of Fame hosting benefits

FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2012, AP file photo, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NFL wild card playoff football game against the Detroit Lions in New Orleans.

FILE – In this Jan. 7, 2012, AP file photo, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NFL wild card playoff football game against the Detroit Lions in New Orleans.

Tulane will honor Saints quarterback Drew Brees with a President’s Medal at the university’s 2014 commencement ceremony the morning of May 17, the school announced Friday.

The award will recognize the former Super Bowl MVP’s work with the Brees Dream Foundation, which has donated more than $20 million to charitable causes and academic institutions in New Orleans, where he’s played since 2006; San Diego, where his NFL career began in 2001; and West Lafayette, Ind., where he attended Purdue in college.

The medal will also laud Brees’ on-field merits. Aside from leading the Saints to their sole Super Bowl championship less than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and helping the team capture three division titles, he is the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in four separate seasons.

No other league quarterback has had more than one such season.

The ties between Tulane and the Saints are well-documented. Notably, former Payton assistant Curtis Johnson is the Green Wave’s head football coach; former Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin is one of Brees’ backups; and ex-Tulane QB coach Mike Neu is now the Saints’ QB coach.

Another President’s Medal recipient at Tulane’s commencement will be renowned jazz clarinetist and university alum Michael White. The President’s Medal recognizes individuals who have contributed to the well-being of New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Tulane will also hand honorary degrees to Carnegie Corporation President Vartan Gregorian, World Bicycle Relief founder F.K. Day and musician Wynton Marsalis at the ceremony.

Saints Hall of Fame to host May benefits

The 23rd annual edition of a golf tournament whose proceeds benefit the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame will be May 19, the team said.

Meanwhile, officials have set a Hall of Fame reception and auction for May 18 that will do the same.

The Saints Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic will start May 19 at 9 a.m. at Chateau Golf and Country Club in Kenner. Participants are supposed to include Coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis, Saints players, assistant coaches, team Hall of Fame inductees and other team alums.

Restaurants and caterers will be at all 18 holes, at the check-in area and at a post-event awards ceremony, the Saints said.

Groups of five — four individuals plus a Saints celebrity — can participate for a cost of $1,500; or it’s $1,200 for a foursome, the team said. Individuals are $300, and everything is on a first-come, first-serve basis. All participants will receive a Saints golf shirt and cap.

Checks as well as the names and contact information of participants can be mailed to the Saints Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 640394; Kenner, LA, 70064-0394.

As for the Fox 8 Saints Hall of Fame Reception/Auction, that will be May 18 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the team indoor facility and cafeteria off Airline Drive in Metairie. Pigeon Caterers, Impastato’s Restaurant and Bud Light will provide all-you-can-eat food and drink at the event, and patrons will have the chance to take pictures with Payton, the Super Bowl XLIV trophy and others.

There will be about 20 auction items, among them Saints memorabilia, tickets to upcoming games, sideline passes, jerseys and a restaurant package.

The cost is $50, and it’s payable by check to the aforementioned mailing address.

The Saints Hall of Fame is located at Gate B on the Plaza Level of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. For more information, call Ken Trahan at 504.471.2192 or email kentrahan@aol.com.