The Washington Redskins were smart to re-sign Chris Baker yesterday to a three-year, $12 million contract, as reported by John Keim of ESPN.com. The mammoth defensive lineman has legitimate breakout potential in 2014.
Baker's new deal, which includes $4 million guaranteed, will give him the chance to realize that potential. As Keim notes, earning that sort of money makes Baker, previously a rotational player, a likely starter:
Looks like he’ll start to get even more time now that he’s returned. Baker signed a three-year contract worth $12 million and $4 million guaranteed Thursday. Baker does more than give the Redskins insurance; there’s a chance he’ll end up opening 2014 as a starter at right end with questions surrounding both Stephen Bowen (knee) and Adam Carriker (quadriceps). If nothing else Baker will be a prime contender for that job.
Baker has earned that right, following a series of encouraging performances during the final weeks of last season. He was close to impossible to block in the season finale, a 6-20 loss against the New York Giants on December 29, 2013.
Baker made seven total tackles, six of which were solo efforts. More importantly, he created a constant push on the pocket that not only stuffed the Giants' runners, but it also kept quarterback Eli Manning under intense pressure.
It was one of the better performances by a Washington defensive lineman during a nightmarish 2013 season. Baker played like the consistently disruptive force Washington needs up front to make its 3-4 scheme work, finally.
What Baker gives the Washington defense is size. But the 6'2", 333-pounder is finally learning how to use it.
Baker always has been an incredibly raw lineman. He has had trouble matching polished technique to his massive frame and natural power.
However, he added to his repertoire in 2013, as this stop for a loss against the Giants shows. Baker began the play shifted between the right tackle and guard David Diehl (No. 66). The Giants used zone-based blocking to run a stretch play to the left, taking a page from Washington's own playbook.
But Baker destroyed the play by using a nifty swim move to get behind Diehl.
He then displayed excellent short-area quickness to outrun an attempted reach block from rookie right tackle Justin Pugh (No. 72).
That left Baker perfectly positioned to drag down running back Andre Brown for a two-yard loss.
Moving out to defensive end more regularly, after being used sparingly over the center, has helped to refine Baker's game. Playing on the edge has given him more license to attack and split gaps, rather than simply absorbing blockers.
He can be dangerous in this role, as he demonstrated against the Giants in the fourth quarter.
Again, Baker lined up shaded toward Diehl. This time, Big Blue used center Kevin Boothe (No. 77) to try to control Baker.
The tactic failed, thanks to Baker's awesome initial push. He shoved Boothe backward and prepared to shed him and pursue downhill.
Baker did exactly that and even shifted laterally, before tackling Peyton Hillis for a four-yard loss.
Attacking from the outside has helped channel Baker's aggression, one of his better qualities, and has made him more effective. The 26-year-old plays with a tenacity 2011's second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins doesn't always show.
That nasty edge makes a difference in the trenches. One of the main failings of the Washington defense last season was how easily opponents were able to get blockers on the team's linebackers.
Members of the D-line weren't disruptive enough to keep the linebackers clean, the real key to the success of a 3-4 scheme. But Baker has the ability to get into the backfield and take blockers with him.
Bringing him back is a smart move because of the options it gives defensive coordinator Jim Haslett along the line. For one thing, Baker is versatile enough to perform a lot of responsibilities, as Keim pointed out via Twitter:
@rich_rudolph little more than I thought he'd get, but it's like low-level starter or multi-use backup. ability to play DE, NT, nickel rush— John Keim (@john_keim) February 28, 2014
If he played nose tackle, it would let Barry Cofield move outside to end, where his superior pass-rush skills could be more of factor. Another option would be to keep Baker at end, but move Jenkins, the team's best lineman at absorbing double-teams, inside.
Perhaps the smartest solution would be to keep Cofield over the center, start Baker at one end, and find another starter in the 2014 NFL draft. Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt or Penn State behemoth DaQuan Jones would fit the bill perfectly.
The point is that keeping Baker gives Haslett a lot more flexibility up front. Lineman in this 3-4 need to be about more than just the dirty work. They have to become regularly disruptive, and Baker can certainly do that.
General manager Bruce Allen and new head coach Jay Gruden need to retain free-agent linebackers Perry Riley Jr. and Brian Orakpo. But bringing back Baker could prove just as significant.
Retaining him, along with re-signing cornerback DeAngelo Hall Feb. 19, is a smart step toward fielding a stronger defense. Expect a good season from Baker in 2014.
All screenshots via Fox Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.