INDIANAPOLIS - The Broncos and Washington Redskins are closing in on a blockbuster deal that would send Denver's Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis to Washington for Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey.
In addition to Bailey, Denver is asking for Washington's second-round pick in the April draft, National Football League sources confirmed this weekend.
Until now, the Redskins have balked at surrendering the pick, one reason no agreement has been announced. Yet at least two other sources close to the Redskins say the deal, which would be one of the biggest in football history, is all but done.
The Broncos are trying to first finalize a new contract with Pro Bowl middle linebacker Al Wilson before dealing with the Redskins. The Wilson deal could be completed today.
But if the trade between Denver and Washington were completed, Bailey then would need to be signed as well - likely to a lucrative contract.
This is the reason trade talks even began to percolate. Washington grew frustrated over its stalled negotiations with Bailey, and Denver does not want to negotiate a new deal with Portis, who still has two years remaining on his contract.
A Denver deal with Bailey might not be as difficult. Bailey's agent, Jack Reale, has worked with the Broncos on numerous contracts in the past, including kicker Jason Elam's in February 2003 and safety Nick Ferguson's last month.
The NFL trading period opens March 3, but the Broncos and Redskins could agree to a deal before then - if they haven't already. The Redskins appear to be soliciting offers from, among others, the Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Houston Texans.
"As to who we'd be interested in, right now that's something we want to keep to ourselves," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said this weekend.
Broncos officials declined to comment on the possible deal.
None of the possible trading partners could offer a player as prolific as the 22-year-old Portis, Denver's record-setting running back who predicted at this month's Pro Bowl that a 2,000-yard season is in his view.
Anyone who watched him rush for 1,591 yards last season, despite missing three games with sternum and ankle injuries, would not question it.
"I know my 2,000 will come," Portis said in Honolulu. "It's just a matter of time."
While the deal would be met with cheers in Washington, it would be met with even louder cheers in Kansas City. During the Broncos' past two games in Denver against the Chiefs, Portis rushed for 348 yards and scored nine touchdowns.
There are questions within the Broncos organization about whether running backs Quentin Griffin, Ahmaad Galloway and Mike Anderson would be good enough to carry the team through the playoffs.
Should Denver land the extra pick from Washington, the team would be positioned to draft one of this year's higher-rated running backs, perhaps even former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, with whom Broncos officials met Thursday night.
Moreover, Denver's defense would be instantly fortified and upgraded. Bailey would be the prototype cornerback the Broncos have coveted since they showered millions on Dale Carter during the 1999 offseason. Bailey, 25, is regarded as one of the game's top cornerbacks.
Asked at the Pro Bowl to name the best cornerback in the game, Philadelphia's five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent said: "Cover-wise, you have to look at Champ Bailey. Champ has the best cover skills."
Although he is regarded as a supreme cover corner, Bailey has failed to make some of the big plays he did early in his career. During his five NFL seasons, Bailey's interception totals have dropped from five in each of his first two seasons to three in 2001 and 2002 to only two last season.
But the Broncos are not concerned with the plays Bailey didn't make in Washington but rather the ones they think he could make for them.
With Bailey blanketing one side of the field in man-to-man coverage, Denver would be able to offer more help to its other cornerback, Lenny Walls, who played exceedingly well the first half of last season but struggled in the second half when wide receivers figured out he could not cover the counter move.
Denver's secondary could use a jolt. In its first playoff appearance since the 2000 season, Denver allowed Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning to complete 22 of 26 passes for 377 yards and five touchdowns.
But the only way to get a player of Bailey's abilities is to surrender a younger and more productive one. Ordinarily, Denver would not consider trading Portis. However, the organization is leery of Portis' request for a new contract at a time when he has two years remaining on his current one.
BRONCOS MAILBAG Denver Post sports writer Adam Schefter takes your questions and responds to the pick of the litter. To submit a question, click here. The next installment is slated for Friday.
If the trade comes to fruition, it would go down as one of the biggest in NFL history. Perhaps the biggest also involved the Broncos, who in 1983 traded backup quarterback Mark Hermann, offensive tackle Chris Hinton and a 1984 first-round draft pick that turned out to be guard Ron Solt to the Colts for the rights to quarterback John Elway.
The other notable football trade involved the Dallas Cowboys, who in 1989 sent running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for five players, six draft choices and a first-round pick in the 1992 draft.
The Cowboys' then-coach, Jimmy Johnson, used two of those picks to draft Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, and safety Darren Woodson, a five- time Pro Bowl selection and the team's all-time leading tackler.
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