Did the Atlanta Falcons Make a Mistake When They Re-Signed Sam Baker?

Al BruceContributor ISeptember 20, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 15:  Tackle Sam Baker #72 of the Atlanta Falcons lines up during a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on August 15, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Despite the Atlanta Falcons' modest 1-1 start to the 2013 campaign, the team's offensive line play has left a lot to be desired.  Through two games, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been hit or sacked on a little over 23 percent of his pass attempts, and Atlanta has only gained 147 yards on the ground as a team. 

Most observers suspected that Atlanta's offensive line may struggle early on because of players like Lamar Holmes and Garrett Reynolds, but few expected veteran left tackle Sam Baker to be responsible for so many of the Falcons' issues up front following the year he had in 2012.

After selecting Matt Ryan third overall in the 2008 NFL draft, the Falcons traded back into the first round to pick Sam Baker after seeing a run on offensive tackles taking place in the middle of the round.

Ever since then, Baker has faced all of the expectations that come with being a first-round draft pick at a premium position in the NFL.

Baker's first three seasons in Atlanta weren't anything to write home about as Baker battled injuries and inconsistency, but he hit rock bottom in 2011 when he began the season getting embarrassed by Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and finished it by losing his starting job to Will Svitek. 

Many people who followed the team closely (and even Baker himself) thought that Baker had played his last game in a Falcons uniform after Atlanta's 24-2 loss to the Giants in the playoffs that postseason.

This 2011 play wasn't one of Baker's finest moments.
This 2011 play wasn't one of Baker's finest moments.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Over the objections of many Falcons fans, Atlanta gave Baker the chance to earn its trust again in 2012, and Baker rewarded the team's faith by turning in what was arguably his finest season in a Falcons uniform last year. Baker even held his own in Atlanta's two playoff games, where he didn't allow a sack.

Interestingly enough, 2012 was also a contract year for Baker. When the free-agent market opened, the Falcons opted to retain Baker with a six-year, $41.1 million contract and $10 million signing bonus instead of pursuing free agents like Rams tackle Jake Long (four years, $34 million) and Bears tackle Jermon Bushrod (five years, $35.9 million).

Fresh off of the contract extension he was rewarded with, Baker has been directly responsible for three of the five sacks that Atlanta's offensive line has allowed thus far. In addition, he was called for a critical holding penalty that killed a promising Falcons drive in the third quarter against the Saints, and he's been overpowered at the point of attack in the run game.

This Week 1 play was eerily similar to what we saw from Baker in 2011.
This Week 1 play was eerily similar to what we saw from Baker in 2011.

Yes, much to the chagrin of many Falcons fans, early evidence suggests that Baker has returned to his 2011 form.

The timing of Baker's poor start this season begs the question: Did the Falcons make a mistake by re-signing Sam Baker following the productive season he had in his contract year?

Here are three points to consider before you answer that question: 1) Elite left tackles rarely hit the free-agent market or become available via trade in the NFL; 2) The Falcons likely won't be in position to draft a top-flight left tackle anytime soon; and 3) The aforementioned Jake Long and Jermon Bushrod joined Giants tackle Will Beatty to headline the 2013 free-agent class at left tackle (Ryan Clady was franchised).

With those points in mind, it's Friday, and the debate floor is yours.