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Does Sam Baker have a future with the Atlanta Falcons?

The veteran tackle finds himself without a clear path to a starting job, and perhaps even without a roster spot.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Baker was drafted to protect Matt Ryan's blind side. Thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness and poor luck, he hasn't been doing much of that of late, and that leaves him at a career crossroads entering 2015.

Baker's career arc is a deeply weird one, and his large contract seems even less defensible than it once did, thanks to injuries over the last two years. Baker started a combined 30 games from 2009 to 2010 and then started only six the next year, bouncing around positions as the team tried to find a place they were comfortable putting him. He followed that up with arguably his best single season at left tackle during the Falcons' 2012 NFC Conference Championship Game run, earning him a pretty hefty contract. He's played in just four games since, with most of his 2013 and all of his 2014 seasons wiped out by injuries. At the time I write this, he's still rehabbing from the latest ailment.

His contract is a deeply unwieldy thing that is slowly becoming less troublesome, as you can see at his Spotrac contract page. Thomas Dimitroff and company have generally done a pretty good job of not putting the Falcons in poor position with the salary cap, but Baker's carrying huge dead money this year. It appears the Falcons were banking on him being a useful starter until 2016, at the very least, but it hasn't really worked out that way. Fortunately for the team, Baker's dead money becomes less oppressive each year, ratcheting down to $6.4 million in 2016, $3.6 million in 2017 and just $800,000 in 2017. If the team wants to cut ties with him this year and absorb the cap hit with their bountiful space, they can do so, but I'm sure they'd rather have a steady veteran tackle available for a line that's in flux, if possible.

So where does that leave Baker heading into the season? The short answer is that we don't know. Until he's fully healthy, he won't be in the mix at any particular position battles, and every place you can think to put him is a place that has a starter in place or at least plenty of competition. He won't be taking over left tackle for Jake Matthews, and he won't be playing right guard so long as Jon Asamoah remains there. That would seem to leave either left guard, where Baker doesn't have much in the way of experience, or right tackle, which has a decent little battle brewing between Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder, with Tyler Polumbus potentially mixing in. Baker might be an upgrade at both spots, but his uncertain status and the rust he'll have to knock off make him a risky bet for either.

If Baker can get healthy, he's still good enough to at least fill a swing tackle role for this Falcons team, even if he'd be an expensive swing tackle. There's certainly the chance he slots in as a starter somewhere, but I don't think you can count on that outcome. If the Falcons get a better look at their line in the weeks ahead and determine they can live without Baker, don't be stunned if he hits the open market. It's unfortunate and miserable luck for the man who could have been and perhaps even once was Ryan's guardian at left tackle, but it's tough to guarantee much of anything for a man who hasn't been on the field the last two seasons.

What are your 2015 expectations for Baker?