I loved watching a healthy Sam Baker play in 2012; he was good. In the off-season, the Front Office locked him up long-term. Now, we all know that hind-sight is 20/20, but it really did not seem like an awful thing to do at the time. We all hoped that he was going to continue to be an above-average LT, and less than $7M/year is about the going rate. However, he has returned to his pre-2012 ways of being injured, and an injured Sam Baker means poor Left Tackle play for the Falcons.
This got me looking at his contract in detail to see exactly how "married" to Sam Baker the Falcons really are. Here is what I found:
His contract has $14.25M guaranteed. Of that guarantee, only $3.0M was paid in 2013. If the Falcons cut him after the 2013 season, the 2014 cap hit/dead money would be $11.25M. That's a lot, so he won't get cut this off-season.
In 2014, there is a $4.0M option bonus (think "second signing bonus"). So cutting Baker after the 2014 season would have the Falcons eat $4.95M in dead money on the 2015 cap ($9.2M in bonuses - $4.25M in salary). Now this is not a deal-breaker, but you have to want someone gone really badly, like Ray Edwards bad, to eat that much dead money.
If he were cut after the 2015 season, then things become realistic. The dead money for 2016 is only $1.15M ($6.4M inbonuses - $5.25M in salary). This is really the first opportunity that the Falcons would have to release him and not have it hurt...a lot.
Now, I really hope that he gets healthy this off-season and stays healthy. We have all seen what he can do, and I hope/pray that he will be the 2012 Baker in 2014 and every year after. However, if he continues his injured ways of terrible play, the Falcons will still have him around another two years after this one.