Champ Bailey’s lengthy Saints courtship ended ‘just right’

Associated Press photo by Jack DempseyFormer Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey warms up before the AFC Championship game in January. Show caption
Associated Press photo by Jack DempseyFormer Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey warms up before the AFC Championship game in January.

It was about mid-March when Atlanta-based NFL agent Jack Reale received a phone call from Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis.

The Saints, Loomis said, wanted to explore the possibility of signing his 12-time Pro Bowler of a client, cornerback Champ Bailey. When was the earliest he could visit?

What followed wasn’t the speediest of processes; it wasn’t until Monday that Bailey actually made it to New Orleans, and another four days passed before the future Hall of Famer agreed to a two-year deal Friday that’s reportedly worth up to $7 million.

But, according to Reale, once Bailey visited with coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, he immediately knew they’d soon be his bosses.

“He was very impressed. He felt extremely comfortable with both of them,” Reale said Friday. “It worked out just right.”

After the Saints contacted his camp, Bailey was immediately interested. New Orleans perfectly matched the criteria he was looking for from his next NFL employer.

Coach Sean Payton’s staff was stable. Quarterback Drew Brees is a future Hall of Famer. The defense in 2013 was ranked fourth overall and second against the pass. And New Orleans nowadays perennially has a legitimate shot at going deep in the postseason: It has won a championship and has been to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs twice since the 2009 campaign.

But scheduling conflicts — for example, Saints brass had to attend the annual NFL owners meeting in Orlando, Fla., from March 24 to 26 — prevented a prompt meeting.

Both sides stayed patient, though, and Bailey arrived in New Orleans on Monday. He was later examined by the team’s medical staff and passed a physical, Reale said.

He spent time with Ryan, Payton and Loomis, and he was sold on the “energy” from them and others in the building, Reale said.

He also knew that another of Reale’s clients — kicker John Kasay, who like Bailey went to the University of Georgia — was in New Orleans for the final season of his 20-year NFL career in 2011, the last time the Saints won the NFC South.

Reached by phone, Kasay on Friday said he was effusive to Reale about how rewarding it was to close his career with the Saints.

“It was a very good situation,” Kasay said. “I couldn’t have gone to a better place. ... They could not have treated me better.”

Reale passed on Kasay’s recommendation to Bailey, and that was “a big factor,” the agent said.

On Tuesday night, after word got out that the Saints had hosted Bailey, the player called Reale and said he wanted to sleep on the thought of moving to New Orleans.

He woke up Wednesday and told Reale to hammer out a deal. Now that terms have been agreed upon, the paperwork will be sent to Bailey’s home in California, and “everything will be signed, sealed and delivered by the beginning of the week,” Reale said.

“He’s really going to be looking forward to being there in New Orleans,” Reale added. “He’s hoping he can be part of getting them to another Super Bowl.”

In one way or another, chances that he’ll help New Orleans’ defense improve are good, even if he is coming off the worst season of an NFL career that’s in its 16th year; a foot injury limited Bailey to eight games in 2013, three of which were in the playoffs and included Denver’s loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Nonetheless, Bailey’s 52 career interceptions are the third-most among active NFL players. He has been to more Pro Bowls than all but a handful of NFL players throughout league history.

So it’s a possibility that Bailey will challenge for the spot opposite entrenched starting cornerback Keenan Lewis, who led the Saints with four interceptions and was second on the team with nine pass break-ups in 2013.

If Bailey doesn’t win that job, there’s no question the Saints will hope he provides veteran guidance to the rest of the secondary, which includes a new addition at safety in Jairus Byrd and a standout about to enter his second year, safety Kenny Vaccaro.

“We are excited to be able to add a future Hall of Fame player,” Loomis said in a statement about Bailey, whose given first name is Roland. “His career accomplishments mirror that of his high character, and he’s a very prideful and competitive player who we believe will add to our defense.”

But that goes both ways because there’s plenty that New Orleans’ defense can give Bailey, he told the Saints’ official website.

“I played in the Super Bowl, (it) probably was the biggest game of my life, but we came up short and I’m still hungry,” Bailey was quoted as saying. “I want to go in and help those guys as much as possible but also take as much from them as I can.”