In 2008, Sam Baker was a happy man.
The Falcons traded up into the first round to grab Baker as a bookend for young Matt Ryan, their new franchise quarterback. At the time, the hulking Baker was viewed as a bit of a reach, but it was generally agreed he was the last potentially awesome left tackle left on the board. I was willing to overlook his tiny arms.
Things have steadily gone south since then. After a promising rookie season, Baker has been a convenient punching bag for the fans for going on three years now. As a pass protector he's been above average to terrible, depending on the day, and his run blocking didn't quite make up for it. Yet he hung on to his starting job, buoyed by those occasional great games and the fact that nobody was really capable of gunning for his job.
Enter 2011. Baker was scuffling at left tackle until he succumbed to injuries. I fearfully predicted that Will Svitek would be even worse, fulfilling my weekly quota for looking like a damn fool. James Rael called Svitek's ascension, by the way. Instead, Svitek has played at least four great games and been at least average in a couple of others. He's far from elite, but he's looked better than Baker. That was enough to cost T. Rex his job.
So on Sunday we were treated—in much the same way a man is "treated" to eating a plate of live, wriggling insects—to watching Baker play right guard, giving him a chance to stick as a starter somewhere else while Svitek rolls on left tackle. He proceeded to melt down in a spectacular fashion, struggling to contain Antwan Applewhite and sharing the blame on the safety by not realizing Matt Ryan was holding on to the ball too long. Partway through the game, he went to the bench in favor of Joe Hawley.
Today, Baker is an unhappy man. When D. Orlando Ledbetter chased him down for a comment, Baker's response was terse. It's not a lot of fun losing your job, so I can't say I blame him.
I think this is the beginning of the end for Baker in Atlanta. He's arguably gotten worse every year he's been in the league, he has no clear starting position on this team and he's going to be disgruntled if he's a backup. After this season, I have to imagine he'll be looking for a new home. It's an ignoble end for a man anointed Ryan's paladin on the left, but then again, most endings aren't pleasant.
Do you think this is the end of Baker in Atlanta? Sound off!