Sunday marked 14 years since the Redskins and Broncos completed one of the biggest trades in NFL history, the deal in which Washington sent Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round draft pick to Denver for Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis. Redskins fans would soon learn they also received Coach Janky Spanky, Kid Bro Sweets, Reverend Gonna Change and a host of other Portis alter egos in the swap, but entertainment value aside, most people, including Bailey, agree the deal was a win for the Broncos. Portis begs to differ.
“They got a second-round pick with me,” Bailey recently told the Undefeated’s Domonique Foxworth. “I think that was the icing on the cake, but you ask me about Hall of Fame, are you going to ask him about Hall of Fame? Clinton Portis? … I have enough confidence to say, yeah, we got the better end of that [trade].”
Earlier in the interview, Foxworth asked Bailey, who retired in 2014, if he thinks he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he’s eligible for induction in 2019. “I feel like I am,” said Bailey, who would put himself alongside Deion Sanders, Ronnie Lott and Darrell Green on his Mount Rushmore of the NFL’s greatest defensive backs.
Portis responded to Bailey’s comments during an interview with Scott Jackson and Brian Mitchell on The Team 980 on Monday.
“He said, ‘Oh, in the trade [the Broncos] got a second-round pick as well,’ meaning he wasn’t enough to go straight up,” Portis said. “They needed to add a second-round pick as well. I’m a huge fan of Champ’s and I think he had a great career and deserves to go to the Hall of Fame, but I still don’t see Denver winning that trade. I think the Redskins actually got the better end.”
The Redskins drafted Bailey with the No. 7 pick in the 1999 draft and he was a star from the start, with 10 interceptions over his first two seasons. Washington offered Bailey a nine-year, $55 million contract extension before the 2003 season, but he rejected the proposal. The following February, the team used the franchise tag on Bailey to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent while fielding trade offers for him. Joe Gibbs had announced his return to the franchise in January, and the Redskins were in the market for a running back.
Portis rushed for at least 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons in Denver, but Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan was reportedly put off by some of his off-field antics. During the fourth quarter of a Week 14 win over the Chiefs in 2003 in which Portis rushed for 218 yards and five touchdowns, the second-year back displayed a gold championship belt that he had smuggled onto the Denver sideline. Portis wanted the world to know that he, not Kansas City’s Priest Holmes, was the league’s top running back.
“Hey, Sharpe!” Portis shouted to teammate Shannon Sharpe, according to the Denver Post. “I’m the heavyweight champion of the world!”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who worked at the Denver Post at the time, told Foxworth that Shanahan raised the possibility of trading Portis the day after that game. According to Schefter, one of the reasons the Redskins added a second-round pick to their offer, despite the fact that they were trading away a player at a more premium position in the increasingly pass-happy NFL, was because the Broncos mentioned the idea of sending Portis to the Dallas Cowboys. Redskins vice president Vinny Cerrato and owner Daniel Snyder evidently couldn’t stand the thought of that.
“I thought Champ was such an elite athlete and such a great person that that was the best thing for the Denver Broncos at that time,” Shanahan told the Broncos’ official website in 2013. “Not only were we able to get Champ, but we had a second-round draft choice as well. That’s one of those opportunities that I thought we couldn’t pass up.”
Denver used the second-round pick to draft Oklahoma State running back Tatum Bell.
Bailey was selected to the Pro Bowl in all but two of his 10 seasons with the Broncos, and Denver made the playoffs in five of those years. Portis had a productive and incredibly entertaining career in Washington. He retired in 2012 ranked second on the Redskins’ all-time list in rushing yards (6,824) and rushing touchdowns (46), but Washington only qualified for the postseason two times during his seven years with the team. Bailey also had the post-trade edge over Portis in Approximate Value (AV) — a stat created by Pro Football Reference that measures how well a player performed overall in a season. Bailey accumulated 97 AV over 10 years in Denver, while Portis accumulated 51 AV over seven years in Washington.
Bailey told Foxworth that Redskins fans still mention the trade to him all the time.
“These guys love that team,” Bailey said. “They still talk about that trade, how much they hated it.”
As for Bailey’s question for Foxworth about Portis’s Canton credentials, Portis said Monday he dang sure should be talked about as a potential Hall of Fame inductee. He pointed to everything that he accomplished despite playing in “seven different systems” in Washington and suffering multiple season-ending injuries. Portis called the 2004 deal “a great trade” and said he wished he had seen Bailey’s comments before he offered his own thoughts on the deal to Foxworth. “I would’ve spoke my mind on it,” Portis said Monday.
In 2013, Portis was more diplomatic.
“I don’t think either one of us regrets the trade,” Portis said then. “I think it’s something that bettered both of our lives. He was able to go and find a home in Denver, and I was able to go and find a home in D.C.”
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