Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle and 2008 first-round pick Sam Baker is likely out for the season with a patella tendon rupture, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The Falcons will have to replace him and shuffle the offensive line to make sure they have the best possible alignment.
The first option would be to have Lamar Holmes step up to replace him. But the better option would be to have Jake Matthews play left tackle and have a competition for the starting right tackle spot. Atlanta needed Baker to stay healthy for its best chances of victory, but with him out, it needs to act fast to replace him.
Patella Tendon Injury Could End Sam Baker's Career
A torn patella tendon is just another injury in a long line of them for Baker. He's had back issues throughout his career that made him miss quite a few games in 2011. He also had a knee injury that had him out 12 games in 2013.
Baker has been a snakebitten throughout his career. It's a shame, because he's apparently a great guy who deserves to have a long, healthy career. He's made a ton of money thus far and should be set for life because of the ridiculous $18.25 million the Falcons guaranteed on his last contract.
But considering he's only going to play four games under his new contract if this is a career-ender, the $4.5 million per game would be the worst-valued contract in the history of the NFL. The Falcons could cut Baker after the 2014 season with post-June 2 designation and save a ton of cash.
|Sam Baker Salary Cap Information|
|Year||Salary||Signing Bonus||Option Bonus||Total Cap Hit|
Currently, Baker is scheduled to have a $7.3 million cap hit in 2015 and an $8.05 million cap hit in 2016. If the Falcons cut him with that designation, they would only have to take a hit of $2.8 million in 2015 and $6.4 million in 2016, an overall savings of $6.15 million that could go to someone else.
Jake Matthews moving to left tackle would be the right move
Matthews is easily the best offensive tackle to come out of college in the past three seasons. He can play both left and right tackle effectively and was looking like an instantly competent right tackle for this year's Falcons offense.
However, he's a long-term solution as a left tackle. The Falcons could make their future now if they decide to have Matthews play left tackle this year. And it's something that head coach Mike Smith isn't ruling out, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter:
Smith seemed open to moving Matthews to left tackle if Baker is out of the season.
“I don’t want to speculate in terms of what we would do,” Smith said. “We’d have a number of options. Again, our number one goal would be to put the five best offensive linemen out there. We obviously know that he’s one of the five best because he’s a starter. Is he our best left tackle? Is he our best option? That’s something we’ll have to determine if we have to address that.”
He's got better physical tools than Holmes and any other Falcons offensive lineman. He also has great technique and looked like he was going to be ready to start at left tackle from day one. The No. 6 overall pick is the Falcons' best option at left tackle and deserves to be the starter there.
It's easier to hide poor play at right tackle than at left, and Matthews would secure the left side of the line with Justin Blalock to keep it a strength this season. Holmes, Mike Johnson, Gabe Carimi and Ryan Schraeder should all compete for the starting right tackle spot.
But right now, the Falcons know they have four spots secured along the offensive line. The real question is just whether they want to worry about their right tackle or their left tackle. Considering every player listed above would make a better right tackle than left, the Falcons should have Matthews play left.
Matthews would be the best left tackle the Falcons have had since Bob Whitfield. And this injury to Baker might be a blessing in disguise for the Falcons' long-term offensive line strength.
All stats used are from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN.com, CFB Stats or NFL.com. All combine and pro day info is courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac and Rotoworld.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, college football, the NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.