For the first time in his career, Champ Bailey was told he is not good enough.
Jettisoned by the New Orleans Saints after a difficult training camp, the 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback was the most notable name when NFL teams trimmed their rosters to 53 active players on Saturday.
A close second was Rams rookie Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team.
The seventh-round draft pick, watched as closely as any rookie in the league this summer, could not make a team stacked with pass-rushers. He still has a chance to get picked up by another team or to make the Rams’ practice squad.
Players with fewer than four seasons in the league are subject to waivers. Those who clear waivers and have practice squad eligibility could sign yesterday when teams fill out their 10-member developmental units.
Vested veterans who were released this weekend are free agents who can sign with anybody. However, some might have to wait to get scooped up because their full salaries for the year are in effect guaranteed if they are on a roster in Week 1.
It just might be the end of a stellar career for Bailey, who said after the Super Bowl that he would not retire “because I still know I can play this game.”
Only seven players in NFL history have more Pro Bowl selections than Bailey, who signed with the Saints following his release from the Denver Broncos in the spring.
Bailey missed 11 games last season after hurting his left foot in the pre-season. He returned for Denver’s stretch run and reached his first Super Bowl, but clearly was not the same player.
In his prime, Bailey was not often challenged by quarterbacks, yet he still managed 52 interceptions, more than any active cornerback.
Broncos GM John Elway said it was difficult to let Bailey go this off-season as he retooled his defense following Denver’s Super Bowl dud against Seattle.
Elway also dreads cut-down day.
Among the players he dismissed on Saturday was nine-year defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, who started 25 games for the defending AFC champs over the past two seasons.
Vickerson was beaten out by Marvin Austin, the latest veteran whom Elway signed to a one-year, no-bonus deal for a shot at resurrecting his career with the Peyton Manning-led Broncos. Not only did he outshine Vickerson, who carried a US$2.27 million cap figure, but with a US$570,000 salary, Austin is the much cheaper option.