State Your Case: Is Champ Bailey a first-ballot choice?

Evaluating the chances of former cornerback Champ Bailey making it to Canton as a first-ballot choice. in 2019

Let’s not waste any time and get this out of the way now: Champ Bailey is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It may be 2019. It may be a year later. But he’s going to Canton.


Bailey is up for the Hall next year, and, if elected, would be just the sixth cornerback chosen to Canton in his first year of eligibility. But if he’s not – and, remember, safety Ed Reed and tight end Tony Gonzalez are eligible next year, too – no problem. He almost certainly is chosen in 2020.

So now the question: What are Bailey’s chances of making it as a first-ballot choice?

He certainly has the qualifications. He was a 12-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro who was a first-team all-decade choice, who once tied for the league lead in interceptions (2006) and who was named to the Denver Broncos’ 50th anniversary team.

Plus, he was considered one of the last shutdown corners.

“He had a special knack (as) a playmaker during the game and played consistently,” Denver GM John Elway said on last week’s Talk of Fame Network podcast. “To me, the idea of a Hall of Famer is the consistency with which they play, and that’s at the top level year in and year out. And when you look at Champ, he did that at the beginning of his career and throughout to the end … and was great every year.

“I always say this: Great players don’t play great all the time, but they play very, very good all the time and they just make great plays. And that’s what Champ did.”

He’s right, of course. Still, that doesn’t make him a lock for Year One.

First of all, there’s another qualified cornerback at the same position who’s been waiting in the queue, and that’s former New England star Ty Law. Law has more interceptions (53-52) and more championships (3-0) than Bailey, led the league twice (1998 and 2005) in pickoffs, was an all-decade choice and a critical figure in New England’s first Super Bowl championships when defense … not Tom Brady … was the story.

Granted, you could choose both, but that would be unusual. I know, we just elected a class with two wide receivers and two linebackers – three of whom were first-time eligibles – but it would be extraordinary for cornerbacks.

The last one chosen was Aeneas Williams, and that was 2014.

But it would not be unusual to choose a cornerback in his first year of eligibility. It happened with Sanders in 2011. It happened with Rod Woodson in 2009. And it happened with Darrell Green in 2008.

So, could it? Yes. Will it? Stay tuned.

Second, if he makes it in 2019 along with Reed and Gonzalez, that leaves only two spots for 10 finalists from a year ago, and, yeah, I know what you’re saying: So what? Well, so those guys are qualified, too (see three offensive linemen who were Top 10 finalists), and have been waiting for years.

So does Champ Bailey deserve to jump, say, an Alan Faneca and/or Kevin Mawae? All were first-team all-decade choices, and Faneca, like Law, played on a championship team.

OK, so let’s say you include all of them. Then where does that leave Tony Boselli, a top-10 finalist the past two years? Or Law? Or Steve Hutchinson, another all-decade choice who made it to the penultimate cut this year?

The feeling among selectors is that the five best candidates should be chosen, no matter how long they’ve been waiting, and that seems like a no-brainer. But how do you determine if Bailey was better than, say, Faneca, who was a nine-time Pro Bowler, eight-time All-Pro (including six first-team nominations), Super Bowl champ and all-decade choice?

Or maybe Mawae, who was an eight-time Pro Bowler, eight-time All-Pro (including seven first-team nominations), all-decade choice and a guy credited with reinventing a position – center – where voters have chosen only one Hall of Famer (Dermontti Dawson) the past 20 years.

As I said, the choice of Champ Bailey is not a tough one. He’s going to the Hall in his first or second year. Of that, I am certain … and the smart money is on him making it in 2019. But there’s a passel of candidates (and I haven’t even mentioned John Lynch, a finalist the past five years) he’d have to jump, and that’s where the indecision comes in.

No, there's no indecision on Champ Bailey as a Hall of Famer. He will be one. The only question: Will it be his first year?