The Atlanta Falcons announced the release of offensive tackle Sam Baker today, ending his seven-year tenure with the team. Baker’s release now means that quarterback Matt Ryan and defensive end Kroy Biermann are the last of the 11-player 2008 NFL draft class still remaining with the Falcons.
Baker’s release was expected following the season-ending knee injury he suffered last summer in the team’s preseason loss to the Houston Texans. Baker’s injury prompted rookie right tackle Jake Matthews to move to the left side of the offensive line, a year earlier than was planned. With Matthews entrenched at the spot, Baker’s durability concerns and expensive price tag became too much for the Falcons to retain.
However, Baker’s release from the team was protracted due to his recovery from injury, prompting thoughts that the Falcons could try and keep him on the roster as an insurance policy in case Matthews’ failed to recover from his own foot injury suffered at the end of 2014. There was even the possibility that Baker could compete for the vacant starting spot at left guard when he returns from injury. However, today’s move officially ends that possibility.
Baker’s release appeared imminent after the Falcons signed guard Chris Chester, as well as Matthews making his return to practices last week. Baker’s release frees up $4.5 million against the Falcons 2015 salary cap. The Falcons will have to carry $6.4 million in dead money on next year’s salary cap.
Baker had an injury-marred career in Atlanta. Originally a first-round pick out of Southern California in 2008, Baker started only five of eight games at left tackle as a rookie thanks to a back injury. He missed only two starts over the next two seasons, but once again struggled with back injuries in 2011, prompting him being benched in favor of Will Svitek after making six starts. Baker returned to have his best season in 2012, starting all 16 games as one of the team’s most consistent blockers up front. The Falcons rewarded that performance with a six-year, $41 million contract that guaranteed $18.25 million.
However, Baker’s success was short-lived. He struggled through three starts in September 2013 due to knee and foot injuries, and then missed the next three games before making a good start against the Carolina Panthers in Week Nine. But after that, he was lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. Baker’s comeback was thwarted last summer in the first half of the team’s second preseason game against the Houston Texans when he suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.