Baker's Bumpy Road To A Roster

The Vikings added wide receiver Robert Baker to the 53-man squad after injuries started to affect the wide receiver corps. Once burdened with a load of legal trouble, Baker's road to an NFL roster has been a bumpy one, to say the least.

With some injuries at the wide receiver position, the Vikings recently re-signed Robert Baker, who had been a final roster cut heading into the season.

Baker was claimed on waivers by the Vikings during training camp after being released by the Miami Dolphins. He was brought in upon the strong recommendation of ex-Vikings receiver Cris Carter, who played with Baker last season with the Dolphins.

While that's about all most people know about Baker, his path to the NFL has been a tough one.

His journey began with a checkered college career at Auburn that culminated with a 15-year prison sentence.

A two-year letter-winner at Auburn in 1995-96, he started 11 of 22 games and caught 62 passes for 896 yards and seven touchdowns. Baker missed the 1997 season because of academic difficulties. Then, as he was set to be Auburn's big playmaker in 1998, he was arrested by police on April 7 and charged with one count of trafficking cocaine and two counts of distribution of cocaine following a two-month sting operation.

According to published reports, Baker allegedly started selling drugs to pay off a substantial gambling debt. He ultimately pleaded guilty to charges in May of 1998 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and assessed a $50,000 fine.

According to former Auburn coach Terry Bowden, now a college football analyst for ABC, Baker was not the villain many made him out to be. For one, Bowden says police told him Baker wasn't even the main target of the undercover operation.

"There's a dealer out there who used a dumb football player," Bowden said.

Bowden stood by his former player, advising him and his parents while he awaited trial. Bowden visited Baker in jail and brought along NFL personnel people to tell him that his football career was not necessarily over.

"Talent wins you second and third chances in the NFL," said one NFL source, who requested anonymity.

After an early parole, Baker got that second chance by Jimmy Johnson, the Dolphins head coach at the time. Eligible for the NFL's Supplemental Draft, he was signed as a free agent on July 13, 1999, after not being selected.

He came in and was having one of the best training camps of any player until he suffered a torn ACL in his knee during a preseason game against San Diego.

After a long rehabilitation, he came back to earn a spot on the Dolphins' practice squad in 2001. He was activated, but did not play, in a first-round playoff game against Baltimore that season. He saw action in 10 games with Miami last season, catching his only career pass, a 17-yard gain, in a 30-3 win against the Chargers.

Off to the NFL Europe this past summer, he was the league's biggest playmaker as he caught 35 passes for 671 yards (a 19.2-yard average) with seven touchdowns, including a long of 82 yards for the Frankfurt Galaxy. However, he found himself caught up in the numbers game in Miami this summer and asked to be released.

He now finds himself getting perhaps his third chance with the Vikings. He's a playmaker, there's no question about that. Maybe he can find a new home in Minnesota and finally put his past behind him for good. Despite what he's been through, he is still pursuing the dream.

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