The Sam Baker story appears likely to be over in Atlanta, as news trickles out that he may be out for the 2014 season.
This is the last year where Baker's cap hit will be truly prohibitive, and after he's muddled through parts of seven up-and-down, injury-marred years in Atlanta, it seems likely Atlanta will simply move on. It's not Baker's fault that he's had so many injuries, but it Is the fault of the front office that the team ponied-up for someone who had a largely average career up to the point of his extension, and one that had featured significant back issues. This team's fascination with Baker was based on the idea that he would, when healthy, play at the same level as he did in 2012 or better, but we're now staring down two straight season-ending injuries and what can charitably be described as a colossal mistake of a contract.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that the team has better in-house options than they did a year ago. Jake Matthews is the likely left tackle of the future, anyways, and the Falcons could simply move him over there. Right tackle won't come down to Jeremy Trueblood or an out-of-shape Lamar Holmes, as the Falcons now have Gabe Carimi, a less out-of-shape Lamar Holmes and an improving Ryan Schraeder. Even that's not ideal, but it's about the most heartening news you can find at the moment.
Here's a quick sketch of some options for these Falcons at the tackles.
This is the scenario above. You either keep Matthews at right tackle or move him to the left and fill the other vacancy internally. This will lead to a weaker LT or RT—or possibly both, if Matthews scuffles early—but it isn't necessarily going to kill the team to trot out Carimi or Holmes at right tackle. Carimi, in particular, has looked good and just needs to heal up his ankle.
Sign A Free Agent
The popular name is Bryant McKinnie, a 34-year-old Kilimanjaro of a man who has been a successful NFL tackle in the past. The problem is chiefly his age and off-and-on conditioning issues, and I objected to McKinnie before when Baker was healthy because I didn't view him as an upgrade.
Now, with Baker likely gone for the season, McKinnie seems an appealing and likely cost-effective stopgap if the Falcons aren't sold on their incumbent options. If they're really serious about keeping Matthews at right tackle this season, he's the only available, decent option at the moment, so the Falcons should at least get on the phone with his agent and consider that avenue.
You could, of course, wait until teams make cuts and see if a decent tackle shakes free. That's far from a lock, however.
Make A Trade
The Falcons have some cap space—north of $8 million, closer to $9—and have a few assets to try to swing a trade for a tackle. This isn't a particularly likely option, given that McKinnie is sitting there and the Falcons like some of their young tackles, but it could be on the table. If you're moving Matthews to the left, a right tackle will cost you much less in assets and cold, hard cash than even a decent starting left tackle would.
So those are the three obvious options. I'd have to predict the Falcons will look at free agency for at least a camp body, and possibly a dude like McKinnie. Jamie Dukes has been beating that drum for a while now, and we may well see it in the next week.
We wish you well, Sam Baker, regardless of what comes next. What scenario do you see unfolding in Atlanta?