Saints CB Champ Bailey says he can live with Corey White not giving him No. 24 jersey

Champ Bailey in January.

Champ Bailey in January.

Yes, Saints cornerback Champ Bailey did ask about the possibility of taking teammate Corey White’s jersey No. 24. And no, the 16-year veteran didn’t get upset when White — whom the Saints drafted in 2012 — turned him down.

“I’m not the one to get attached to anything like that,” said Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler whose 52 career regular-season interceptions are the third-most among active NFL players. “It’s just a number. I’ll make the number I have look like something.”

Bailey, who joined the Saints in free agency this offseason after 10 years with the Denver Broncos and had worn No. 24 throughout his career, spoke about the situation at a charity softball game hosted by New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs in Metairie on Wednesday night.

He said he asked fellow cornerback White if he was attached to the number. White said he was, and Bailey let the matter end at that.

Bailey subsequently chose to wear No. 27 for the Saints because he wanted to remain in the 20s, and it was one of only two open in that range. No. 27 had been worn by ex-Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who left for Philadelphia in free agency in March.

“I just got to live with it,” Bailey said. “I wasn’t going to make him an offer (of money for the number) or anything like that. I’m not paying for anything.

“I think if the roles were reversed, I probably would’ve considered it, but he didn’t want to. It’s his own decision.”

Bailey and White are among a group of players competing to start opposite entrenched cornerback Keenan Lewis this year. In 2013, White started six regular-season games and two playoff contests after former Saints cornerback Jabari Greer suffered a year-ending knee injury in November.

White has picked off two passes, broken up 10 throws and made 72 tackles (54 solo) in 26 regular-season games with the Saints.

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Correction: This post originally said No. 27 was the only one available for Bailey to take in the 20s. It was one of two. This post has been updated.

Saints QB Drew Brees: All young players want to be in position to fight for 2nd contract like Jimmy Graham is

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) celebrates a touchdown with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON– New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) celebrates a touchdown with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

For a couple of reasons, Saints quarterback Drew Brees won’t blame All-Pro Jimmy Graham if he sits out the team’s organized team activities in May and June.

Brees is certain Graham will be ready when he returns, which almost certainly won’t be until his contract situation is resolved. And Brees knows missing voluntary offseason workouts are an inescapable part of high-stakes NFL playing deal negotiations that can drag out well into the summer.

Brees discussed Graham at a charity softball game hosted by Saints guard Ben Grubbs in Metairie on Wednesday night. Brees said he didn’t like missing OTAs when he and his camp were negotiating the $100 million contract he accepted from the Saints in 2012, after he had led the team to its only Super Bowl title and had accumulated two of his mind-boggling four seasons throwing for 5,000 or more yards.

“As you’re going through it, you’re like, ‘Gosh, it should be much easier than this, right?’” said Brees, who didn’t re-join the Saints to prepare for the 2012 season until July of that year. “But listen, that’s part of the process. It’s a leverage game, and it’s back and forth. And the team has a job to do and the player has a job to do in regards to their contract.”

Graham might be bracing to do something similar. After the rookie deal he accepted as a 2010 third-round draft pick expired in March, he was given a franchise tag as a tight end due about $7 million to prevent him from hitting free agency while permitting both player and team to negotiate a new long-term contract.

But Graham filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association that he is owed in excess of $5 million more, arguing that he lined up much more as a wide receiver than as an in-line tight end in 2013. Franchise tags for wide receivers are worth about $12.3 million this year.

Graham would not even play under the tag if he and the team can settle on a new long-term deal before a July 15 deadline. Separately, a June 17-18 hearing date has been set for the grievance.

Any ruling issued by a third party in regards to the grievance would give the winning side significant leverage in arguing how much money Graham deserves in contract negotiations. That’s motivation to get a deal done before then; however, until one happens, Graham is not expected to participate in OTAs, and that doesn’t bother Brees.

“I know he’ll be staying in good shape and all those things,” Brees said. “I’m not worried about Jimmy Graham. When he comes back, he’ll be ready.”

Brees added: “We’ve been in contact, just checking on him, making sure he’s doing alright and he’s not getting frustrated, you know, disappointed or taking things personal. It’s easy to do that, especially as a young player.

“You look at your contributions to the team, and, ‘Here I am, drafted in the third round, been pretty much playing for minimum here over the last four years. And now this is my opportunity to get compensated based on my production.’”

Brees said all young players hope that they have the opportunity to go through what Graham is: hammering out a second contract. However, none of it means Graham wants to defect from the Saints, Brees said.

“I know he wants to be a Saint for the rest of his career,” Brees said. “I know I want him to be a Saint for the rest of my career.

“Hopefully, we can go at it for another five, six, seven years together and then go out champions together. But I’m confident it will all get worked out when it’s supposed to.”

Graham’s 41 touchdown receptions are fourth all-time and the most for a tight end in the Saints record book.

His 301 catches and 3,863 receiving yards rank sixth and seventh all-time for the Saints, and they’re each tops among tight ends who have suited up for the franchise.

He holds single-season team records for catches (99 in 2011) and receiving touchdowns (an NFL-best 16 last year). He has gone to two Pro Bowls and helped the Saints to the playoffs in ‘10, ’11 and ’13.

His rookie contract reportedly paid him $2.45 million over four years.

Chosen for Saints Hall of Fame induction, Aaron Brooks belonged in that number: Commentary

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Former Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks

For a brief time before Minneapolis enraged New Orleans’ collective conscience on Tuesday by beating out the Crescent City for the gig to host the 2018 Super Bowl, it was Aaron Brooks who primarily drew the ire of Saints fans.

The ex-Saints quarterback had been chosen for induction into the team’s Hall of Fame — and he had the audacity to show up to a news conference and express his thanks for the honor! In the middle of the day for everyone to see!

To the slightest of degrees, at least initially, such a reaction is understandable (very mildly). The Saints failed to qualify for the playoffs five of the six seasons that Brooks was the signal-caller, after all.

Who can forget that pass he threw backwards to tackle Wayne Gandy during a defeat at San Diego on Nov. 7, 2004, which resulted in a fumble, lost 23 yards after a New Orleans recovery and set up a punt on fourth-and-33?

Who can forget Brooks’ 84 interceptions and his 59 fumbles (23 of which were lost) with the Saints, and how he smiled seemingly after each and every one?

The answer is very few.

But forgetting is one thing. Forgiving is another.

And, almost nine years since his last snap in black and gold, it’s time to forgive Brooks for the bad times, congratulate him on the good ones and let him enjoy a distinction he earned fair and square.

Brooks’ 120 touchdown passes and 18 game-winning drives for the Saints from 2000 to 2005 rank second only to Drew Brees. His 19,156 throwing yards trail only Brees’ 38,733 and Archie Manning’s 21,734.

In his first year, Brooks threw four touchdown passes in the team’s first-ever playoff win, a 31-28 nail-biter at home against St. Louis. That night he became the first quarterback to ever eliminate the defending Super Bowl champions in his first postseason start.

Brooks had already helped the Saints beat St. Louis once earlier that season, in his first start in Week 13 in place of the injured Jeff Blake. Just two quarterbacks in NFL history before him had led their teams to wins over the reigning Super Bowl champs in their first league start.

A few weeks later, he guided the Saints to what was only the second division title of their existence.

Ultimately, that was Brooks’ peak. Critics explained that away by saying he was too aloof and didn’t possess the leadership qualities required of a true franchise quarterback.

There might be some truth to that. One episode especially illustrates this.

It was 2005, when the Saints finished 3-13 and didn’t play a single game at what is now called the Mercedes-Benz Superdome because Hurricane Katrina had destroyed it that August.

Brooks gave an interview on a pre-game show one week and excoriated the NFL for moving what should’ve been the Saints’ first home game that season to East Rutherford, N.J. He criticized team owner Tom Benson for relocating the organization’s operations to San Antonio, where practices were on high school fields and parking lots. He said the season in general had been “bulls–.”

Those were all sentiments the populace in New Orleans had voiced amidst the frustrations and anxieties in the wake of the storm. But Brooks’ effort to relay them fell flat.

He was lashed verbally for allegedly not sounding like the leader of a football team and for supposedly complaining too much when his circumstances were not as adverse as those of other Katrina victims.

“People didn’t know what was happening on a play, and they didn’t know anything about me, and yet they were criticizing me,” Brooks told media Tuesday while reflecting on his tenure with the Saints. “I tried to do things the right way. I tried to uplift people the whole time and to get that type of criticism was like, ‘Where did that come from?’ That stayed with me a long time. I guess I just didn’t take it well.”

Regardless, the facts and the math are cold and simple. Three quarterbacks — Manning (1988), Billy Kilmer (1990) and Bobby Hebert (1999) — were enshrined in the team’s Hall of Fame without some of the numbers Brooks produced or the credentials he possessed.

None of them won a playoff game. Hebert was the lone member of that trio to play for a division winner.

Brooks is the first to acknowledge he accomplished whatever he did with heaps of assistance.

“A lot of guys contributed to the success I had on the field and off the field,” Brooks said Tuesday. “I’m not accepting (the induction) just on my behalf; the teams … deserve just as much credit.”

Certainly, it did Brooks no favors that he was succeeded in New Orleans by Brees, his San Diego counterpart on the day of the backwards pass.

After joining the Saints in 2006 alongside coach Sean Payton, Brees has gone on to be the only NFL player to pass for more than 5,000 yards in four separate seasons and in more than one campaign.

He has taken the Saints to their only Super Bowl triumph; their two NFC Championship Games; three of their five division titles; and half of their 10 playoff appearances.

But few players in pro football history — let alone in Saints annals — can rival what Brees has done.

As far as Brooks is concerned, though, this isn’t the Pro Football Hall of Fame we’re talking about. This is one that has now memorialized more than 40 players who managed unique achievements or offered an unprecedented level of on-field production while representing the New Orleans Saints, whose finest moments for the most part have occurred in the last eight years.

The team’s Hall of Fame selection committee got this one right, folks. Brooks belongs in that number.

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Correction: Due to an error in archived reference material, this column originally said Brooks was No. 2 in passing yards in Saints history. He is actually No. 3, and this piece has been updated to reflect that information.