My initial reaction to the moves the Falcons made this week weren’t overly positive. I thought the team overpaid Sam Baker and wasn’t a huge believer that running back Steven Jackson would help that much. After a few more days to mull it over, I’m singing a different tune about Jackson but still don’t love the Baker signing.
I believed re-signing Baker was the smart move for the Falcons. Baker is coming off his best season, and his solid performance in the NFC Championship Game proved that he was worth investing into. I just wish the Falcons had invested a little less. While Baker signed a six-year deal worth slightly more than $41 million with $18.25 million guaranteed, the deal really translates to be a three-year, $22.75 million contract. That is because after the third year, the contract is structured to a level where the team could potentially cut Baker. It’s not something I root for, but it’s hard to justify paying an offensive linemen $8.05 million (Baker’s 2016 cap hit) unless he’s a Pro Bowl player. Baker probably won’t be that due to his physical limitations: lack of strength and short arms. What we saw from him in 2012 is probably the best we can hope for and that wasn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber performance.
Baker got market value for his deal, as his three-year payout is comparable to those of Jermon Bushrod ($22.5 million) and William Beatty ($24 million). I didn’t think the Falcons made the right call when they gave Justin Blalock a six-year, $38 million deal following the lockout. Similarly, that was a market value at the time. I just wish the Falcons had only made a more modest two-year commitment to Baker. Blalock’s contract is structured similarly, and come 2015 he is set to count roughly $7.9 million against the Falcons cap. It will be hard to justify bringing a competent guard like Blalock back at that level unless he plays better in 2013 and 2014. It would have been a bit more congruous in my mind if both Baker and Blalock could have potentially been pushed out the door in the same year. I’ve never really thought the left side of the Falcons offensive line was a strength of theirs, and thus committing that sort of money to it doesn’t make great sense.
While I’m not sure Jackson is really going to be an impact runner as a lead back, I do think he will help the Falcons out as a situational back. The Falcons were terrible last year in short-yardage and goalline situations, and Jackson should be an upgrade there. He hits the hole a lot quicker and harder than Michael Turner did. The downside of Jackson is that he’s probably not going to be that valuable outside those situations. He can better help keep the Falcons offense on schedule by giving them far less 2nd & 8 situations that seemed to be the staple with Turner as the lead back. But he doesn’t quite have the skillset to make defenses pay for focusing too much of their attention on the Falcons receivers. He won’t generate big runs on the second level, which I believe could be extremely valuable for the Falcons offense as they continue to try and become more explosive. But if Jackson can be more effective at wearing down defenses between the tackles, that could open up greater opportunities for Jacquizz Rodgers as a change of pace runner. Quizz doesn’t possess great speed to run away from defenders, but his exceptional quickness can be dangerous when he gets outside. Jackson certainly will bring needed toughness to the Falcons offense.
Neither re-signing Baker nor adding Jackson were bad moves by any means, they just weren’t perfect.