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The unlikely trade that delivered Bailey to Denver

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Clinton Portis ran for nearly 10,000 yards in his NFL career.

He stands 30th in career rushing yards, just behind Eddie George and Tiki Barber and ahead of Shaun Alexander and Earl Campbell, among others.

But Clinton Portis isn't exactly on Champ Bailey's level.

The pair will forever be linked after they were traded for each other in March of 2004, a blockbuster exchange rarely seen in the NFL. Portis was coming off his second consecutive 1,500-yard season and was a year removed from being the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Bailey was even more established at the time. According to Mel Kiper Jr., he played 95 percent of snaps in his final year at Georgia on defense AND offense -- with 47 catches and five TDs as a receiver -- before being the seventh overall pick in 1999. As a pro, Bailey turned heads from the moment he arrived in Washington, including the head of teammate and future Hall of Fame corner Darrell Green.

"He exuded that quiet confidence, just as a kid, just from day one," Green said this week in a video tribute the Broncos put together for Bailey. "As soon as I saw him, I was like, this guy's got talent. And they're saying, 'Hey Darrell, help him out.' I said I don't want to make him Darrell Green because this guy's going to be special on his own."

In five seasons, Bailey had only missed a nod to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, when he made 61 tackles and picked up five interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. He was perhaps already the best cornerback in the NFL and still two months shy of his 26th birthday. And yet, his team was willing to trade him.

Look back at the best of Champ Bailey during three consecutive All-Pro seasons, including his interception of Tom Brady in the playoffs.

"I was baffled to be honest with you," Bailey said Tuesday as he looked back on the deal. "It was one of those times I was really entering the prime of my career. I went to four Pro Bowls as a Redskin my last four years there and I would never imagine that I would leave that place, but it was just never in their plans to keep me around."

With the incredible history Bailey created as a Bronco and the legacy he's left, it's easy to forget how unlikely his arrival in the Mile High City was. Last year, DenverBroncos.com detailed how the trade came to be -- a product of a discussion with Bailey's agent at the Senior Bowl and mixed relationships between each player and his respective team over upcoming contract situations.

That those random circumstances aligned to lay the groundwork for the trade is indeed remarkable, but that the exchange ultimately went through is perhaps even harder to fathom. For one, swapping Pro Bowl players in the NFL is rarer than a kicker missing an extra point, and this particular pair of stars was young enough that each was likely on his way to greater accolades. For another, despite already steady movement toward the "passing league" of today's NFL, the Redskins valued a top young running back more than a star cornerback, which would be inconceivable even two or three years later. In fact, Washington valued Portis over Bailey enough to add a deal-sweetening high second-round pick, who Denver turned into Tatum Bell, a speedy back who averaged 4.9 yards per carry in five NFL seasons.

"I think there's no doubt (the Broncos) got the better end," Bailey said with a smile Tuesday. "I thought they had the better end in the beginning -- even without the results, just because, running back and a second-round pick? That was unbelievable."

In the "how things have changed" department: The Jets fetched the 13th overall pick and a conditional pick in the draft when they traded three-time All-Pro Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers in April of 2013. Revis wasn't exactly at the height of his powers either -- he was already two years older than Bailey was at the time of the Broncos-Redskins trade and was rehabbing a torn ACL from the previous season.

Even overlooking the change in value at those positions, there's never really been a debate over who got the better end of the deal. Portis played 113 games in his career (84 for Washington) and never matched the production of his Denver campaigns, while the Broncos' offensive line helped backs found in nooks and crannies pick up 1,000-yard seasons. Bailey played 215 career games, including 135 for the Broncos, at a Hall-of-Fame level and posted one of the best two-year stretches ever seen by a defensive back from 2005 to 2006. Just as important, he endeared himself to fans and the community like few players ever have.

It seems Denver endeared itself to Champ too, which makes the fact that the stars aligned to bring him to Colorado all the more meaningful. His love for his adopted home shone through during Tuesday's ceremonial experience. As 20 or so former teammates and many more Broncos staff members listened, he credited the trade for bringing him "to the greatest place on earth -- the Broncos' organization." "This place makes you forget about all of the bad stuff real quick," he said. "I'm glad it happened. It was surprising but I'm glad it happened."

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