Falcons make right move releasing Baker

The Falcons cut ties with Sam Baker Monday in a decision that will help the offensive line move on.

It was not easy for the Falcons to release Sam Baker. They'll be charged with a $9.2 million salary cap hit for the 2015 season.

But sometimes decisions like this must be made. Baker has become too injured in recent years to be counted on, and the Falcons could ill afford to not be able to depend on someone playing such a valuable position.

Baker missed all of last season with a knee injury. In his seven years with the Falcons, Baker played in all 16 games just twice. He missed 12 games in 2013, meaning he's played in just four games since the NFC Championship game over two years ago.

Baker just turned 30 two weeks ago. He's been hurt a lot. Offensive linemen rarely come back from that amount of injuries and regain the productive play they may have had before. There's no doubt that Baker was productive when healthy, but how healthy could the Falcons truly expect Baker to be moving forward?

The new coaching staff is going to a zone blocking scheme, so the team must find the perfect fits to be able to improve an offensive line that has been the biggest question on the team outside of the defensive pass rush. This was the perfect ties to let Baker go, so that someone else can be groomed this summer to get the playing time.

Baker would just have been in the way, even though the coaches tried to paint the picture Baker was in line to regain his starting position as the left tackle. Why would Atlanta have done that? They have other options, and while some may be unproven compared to Baker, they are younger and are healthier.

The team signed free agent Tyler Polumbus last month as a free agent. Polumbus has gotten significant playing time for the Redskins at offensive tackle, including time spent in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Shanahan is the new offense coordinator, and he likely feels more comfortable with a player that knows his system compared to someone who can't even stay healthy.

Polumbus started seven of the 11 games he played for Washington last season. In 2012-2013 he started all but one game, playing in 31 for the Redskins.

Atlanta also has Ryan Schraeder returning. He started 10 games last season at right tackle, as rookie Jake Matthews moved over to left tackle to replace Baker. Plus, Lamar Holmes is due back after missing 12 games last season.

There was talk Baker might be moved inside to guard to help replace veteran Justin Blalock, who was released after the season. But the Falcons signed Chris Chester a few weeks ago to play guard. Chester was also in Washington under Shanahan. The Falcons also have Mike Person, Peter Konz and likely right guard starter Jon Asamoah at the two spots. So there really wasn't room for Baker to move to inside.

The options were simply there to replace Baker and not have this be an issue. In fact, why worry about whether Baker could stay healthy and even make it through camp. The team must protect quarterback Matt Ryan, and unfortunately, Baker became a player whose best days were behind him.

What value is there in an offensive lineman that can't stay healthy? Not much. That's why the Falcons did the right thing by letting Baker go now and knowing they will be looking for a new starter in training camp.


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