About one year and some change ago, the Falcons were in the midst of hitting a major crossroads in the Thomas Dimitroff / Mike Smith era of the team. Already, the team had jettisoned veterans Michael Turner, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson. More would follow, including Tyson Clabo and Falcon-for-life Todd McClure.
The front office sent a clear message that it would be judicious in choosing who to keep around for the long term. Ultimately, the Falcons decided to invest in left tackle Sam Baker with a six-year, $41.5 million contract extension.
16 months later, we have Baker making an appearance on Grantland's "All-Bad Contracts Team."
Despite the fact that Baker was coming off arguably his best season as a pro, his history of injury and inconsistency had many skeptical at the time -- I was, at least. The alternatives may have been slim, but the Falcons were also perhaps a little too attached to the man they traded back into the first round of the 2008 Draft to acquire.
Fast forward to the present and the Baker haters were mostly proven right. After battling a lingering knee injury all of last season and missing multiple games, the USC product found himself on injured reserve by early November. That of course gave way to the Lamar Holmes disaster, and the dominoes only continued to fall from there. Now, having just spent this year's first-rounder on a left tackle in Jake Matthews, the Falcons are locked into a long-term contract with a player who has been injured lately.
With training camp now underway, the question of "how long can Baker hold off Matthews?" looks to become one of the overarching story lines of the season. Sure, Matthews will get the first crack at right tackle and Baker likely starts on the blindside Week 1. But if Baker struggles or suffers another injury, it'll be the Matthews show, and you'll have the Falcons paying a lot of money for a right tackle.
Update: Be sure to check out Vaughn McClure's piece on Mike Tice tweaking Baker's base in pass protection.
And if your first thought is, "well hey, let's just cut Baker and spend the money elsewhere," remember that the Falcons still owe about $15.25 million guaranteed on his contract.
Let me emphasize that it's not a team-killer contract. If Baker's healthy, the Falcons would certainly benefit from having him on the line. But that's still an "if" considering he's coming off yet another offseason surgery. In the end, we'll have to hope that he can live up to at least part of the contract and become a serviceable right tackle down the road when Matthews is phased in.
Be sure to play this song by country artist Sam Baker while you wistfully look at our Baker's cap figures for the next five seasons: