Irony and the ironic abound in life and we got a nice little taste of it this past week or so with events surrounding the signing of Champ Bailey to a contract extension and the release of Clinton Portis -- two players whose careers are intertwined and whose impact on the Broncos was and is significant.
"Ironic" can be defined as coincidental; unexpected; incongruity, incongruity between what is expected to be and what actually is, or a situation or result showing such incongruity.
There is a certain irony in Portis being released by the same coach who originally drafted him, then later traded him for the player who was just given a large (4 years, $43 million, $11 million guaranteed in 2011) extension to his contract.
In the months that followed the NFL's 2003 season, there was a trade that by many was considered to be a blockbuster deal while others saw it as a major mistake. The Washington Redskins agreed to trade Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos for Clinton Portis. Portis had been drafted by a team that appeared to be on the rise, going 6-10, 11-5 (with a playoff appearance) and 8-8 in the seasons prior to his drafting, then going 9-7 and 10-6 (with a playoff appearance) in Portis' first two years. Bailey, on the other hand, had quickly established his reputation as a CB to be feared on a team that seemed to be in decline, going 10-6 (with a playoff appearance), 8-8, 8-8, 7-9 and 5-11 in Bailey's first five years.
Bailey wanted more money and a chance to play for a team on the rise. When Washington began talking about apply the franchise tag to him, Bailey threatened to boycott training camp. The Redskins gave him permission to seek a trade. Meanwhile, Portis had finished a second solid year as the starting RB for Denver and approached the Broncos about renegotiating his contract -- which still had two years to run. The Broncos' position was that they only renegotiated contracts in the final year of that contract. The relationship soured and Denver took advantage of Bailey's seeking a trade to trade Portis for Bailey.
What Each Team Got in the Trade
Denver received Champ Bailey, plus a second round 2005 pick -- that eventually turned into Tatum Bell, and a 2006 first round pick. In Bailey, they got a first round pick, starting-caliber cornerback who had started all sixteen games in each of the previous five years. Bailey had recorded 1 sack, 18 interceptions and 1 a defensive touchdown. He had also defensed 51 passes, forced 2 fumbles and recovered 5 fumbles. He recorded 292 tackles during those five years. Bailey, at that point in his career, compared favorably to CBs like Ed Reed, Louis Wright, Mel Renfro, Charles Woodson and Ronnie Lott, among others. He had learned the NFL from Deion Sanders and Darrell Green. While with Washington, Bailey was voted to the Pro Bowl four times (2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003).
Washington received Clinton Portis. In Portis, they got a second round pick, starting caliber running back who had started 25 out of 32 games in his first two years, had put up 3099 rushing yards with a 5.5 yard per carry average and 678 receiving yards with a 9.5 yards per catch average. Portis had logged 29 rushing touchdowns and 2 receiving ones. In 2002, he became the youngest player in NFL history to score 4 touchdowns in a single game. The following year he became the youngest player to score 5 touchdowns in a game.
What Has Happened Since Then
In the seven years since the trade, Bailey has started 101 out of 112 regular season games. He has recorded 2 sacks, 30 interceptions with three defensive touchdowns, defensed 101 passes, forced 4 fumbles and recovered 1 fumble. Bailey has been voted to six Pro Bowls (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010). He has been voted as a First Team All Pro three times (2004, 2005 and 2006). On January 14, 2006, Bailey set the NFL record for the longest play that did not result in a score when he intercepted a pass one yard deep in his own end zone and returned it to the New England one yard line before being tackled. He tied for the most interceptions in 2006 -- a season in which he did not give up a single touchdown. In 2009, Bailey played 98% of the defensive snaps for the Broncos, had 80 passes thrown his way, but did not give up a single touchdown. In 2010, he held premier receivers David Bowe and Larry Fitzgerald to 0 and 3 catches respectively. On 2/22/11, Bailey was given a new 4-year, $43 million contract with $11 million guaranteed in 2011.
In the seven years since the trade, Portis started 84 out of 112 regular season games. He struggled initially in Joe Gibbs' running system. This was one of the criticisms of the trade -- that Portis was a product of Shanahan's running scheme which featured zone blocking, stretch and outside runs. Gibbs' system was tailored to physical power runners like Stephen Davis and John Riggins. Portis finished with 1315 yards with a 3.8 yards per carry average and 5 rushing touchdowns behind an injury-depleted offensive line in his first year. Eventually adjustments were made by both Gibbs and Portis and Portis finished his career in Washington with 1667 rushes for 6824 yards with a 4.1 yards per carry average and 46 rushing touchdowns, 176 receptions for 1340 yards with a 7.6 yards per catch average and 3 receiving touchdowns. His career has been comparable to running backs like Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, Floyd Little, Tony Dorsett and Adrian Peterson. He was voted to one Pro Bowl (2008).
But the relationship between Portis and the Redskins began to sour. After a strong outing in 2005, he entered training camp before the 2006 season showing great speed and determination. However, a dislocated shoulder in a preseason game led to his commenting, "I don't know why myself or any other player of my caliber should be playing in the preseason." In 2008, Portis was publically critical of then Head Coach Jim Zorn, including sarcastically referring to Zorn as a "genius." 2009 and 2010 were seasons in which Portis was plagued by injury, starting only 13 games in those two seasons. Due to make $8.3 million in 2011 -- a salary the Redskins did not feel they could afford -- Portis has said that he was given the opportunity to restructure his contract but felt it would be hard to "accept not being the go-guy." On 2/28/11, Portis was released by the same coach who originally drafted him then traded him for Bailey.
Some Unseen, Overlooked Implications of the Trade
John Bena pointed out that there were some often overlooked implications for the Broncos that came out of the Bailey for Portis trade. As was mentioned above, Denver received not only Bailey, but also a 2005 2nd round pick and a 2006 1st round pick. The 2005 pick was used to draft Tatum Bell -- who recorded 2947 combined yards from scrimmage with 15 touchdowns in four years with the Broncos.
Before the 2006, Denver had two low first round picks -- the 29th plus the 22nd (from Washington). They enacted a trade with the Falcons that brought the Broncos the 15th pick for the 29th plus a 3rd and a 4th round pick. The Broncos then traded the #22 pick for a 2nd round and a 3rd round pick to the Forty-niners. On Draft day, 2006, Denver traded the #15 pick plus on of the 3rd round picks they'd acquired to St. Louis so they could move up to #11 and draft Jay Cutler. They traded their own 2nd round to Green Bay for Javon Walker. With the 2nd round pick acquired from San Francisco, Denver selected Tony Scheffler. Later on, Denver traded Tatum Bell for Dre Bly, Jay Cutler was traded for draft picks plus Kyle Orton, Javon Walker was released and Tony Scheffler was traded for a draft pick. The list could go on and on.
When considering the situation, Tim Lynch commented:
The true irony Brian is that in about 5 years we will be talking about how the drafting of Tebow was tied to the Orton-Cutler trade which was tied to the Portis-Bailey trade. Which will result in Mike Shanahan being the first domino that would result in the Broncos drafting Tebow who subsequently led the Broncos to three straight Super Bowl titles. At least that is what I saw when I hopped in my reliable ole time machine.
What can we say? Irony abounds.