8 NFL Draft picks the Washington Commanders gave up on too soon

What might have been...
Champ Bailey
Champ Bailey / Scott Cunningham/GettyImages
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Champ Bailey

  • Cornerback | 1999 NFL Draft

I’ve had this debate with fellow fans for many years. Yes, Champ Bailey wanted to get paid. He deserved it.

He made the Pro Bowl four consecutive years for the now-Washington Commanders. Bailey was the best young cornerback in the league. But the organization didn’t want to pay him.

Joe Gibbs had just returned and the head coach wanted a bellcow in the backfield. Returning starter Trung Candidate was not going to be the man. So the man in charge used Bailey’s contract demands to engineer a trade for Clinton Portis.

Portis was a good player for Washington. He still ranks second on the team’s all-time rushing list. But let’s look at some numbers.

During Portis’ seven seasons with the club, Washington won 43 percent of its games. They finished in the upper half of the NFC East one time. During that same stretch with the Denver Broncos, Bailey’s team won 53% of their contests and finished in the top half of the AFC West five times.

More importantly, Bailey played three additional seasons. In those years, Denver won more than 70 percent of their games, made the playoffs each year, and went to the Super Bowl. The defensive back made the Pro Bowl eight of his 10 seasons for the Broncos and ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Portis was a flashier name at a flashier position, but Bailey was a much better player. When the backfield threat got hurt during the 2006 season, his backup Ladell Betts essentially duplicated his production.

In hindsight, Washington could have paid the corner and developed a runner like Betts. That might have been the smart play, but the Commanders franchise has not been renowned for doing things correctly over the last 30 years.

Hopefully, this is something Adam Peters can change sooner rather than later.