FREE AGENCY | PART 6

Dolphins free agency: Falcons’ Sam Baker an option if Jake Long leaves

 

The Dolphins will need an experienced tackle if Jake Long bolts – and fellow 2008 first-round pick Sam Baker might be the solution.

abeasley@miamiherald.com

The Jake Long Era in Miami is potentially down to its final days, so let’s revisit one last time Bill Parcells’ infamous draft-day decision that changed the direction of two franchises.

The Dolphins took Jake Long with the first overall pick in 2008. The Falcons selected Matt Ryan third, and then traded up to grab tackle Sam Baker at No. 21. The Falcons had their franchise quarterback. The Dolphins? They’ve since used high picks on three QBs, including Chad Henne later in the 2008 draft.

And, with no lack of irony, the Dolphins could replace Long with the Baker, who was the seventh of eight tackles taken in the first round this year.

Back then, it was considered a draft class rich at tackle. Five years on, it looks even better. This year’s free agent group is littered with members of the Class of ’08.

Long and Baker are available. So is Gosder Cherilus. Ryan Clady and Branden Albert would have gotten monster deals if they hadn’t been franchised. (Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith are also on the market, but both entered the league in 2009).

POSITION OF NEED

So there are options out there for the Dolphins, who as of Tuesday will have just one tackle – Jonathan Martin – on their roster who took more than one snap last year.

In short, we’ve established the need. But is it strong enough for the Dolphins to pull the ultimate switcheroo – swapping one former first-rounder with talent but inconsistent play (Long) for another (Baker)?

Signing the latter certainly could be a cheaper option. Long is looking for a contract that will pay him more than $10 million a year. Many, including former NFL executive Charley Casserly, believe Baker would fetch a multi-year deal paying him roughly $7 million per, similar to the one given to the Giants’ Will Beatty last month.

“I thought his technique was good, effort was good, and he did a solid job,” Casserly said. “He played better last year. He was way off the year before, but improved last year.”

Ah yes, 2011. In a word: Disastrous. Baker was benched after a brutal start to the season. The low point: Week 2 against the Eagles, when he was a turnstile. He only allowed one sack, but that stat is misleading. He also surrendered nine hurries.

SOLID 2012 SEASON

But Baker got his act together in 2012, so much so that he took every snap of the regular season and playoffs.

He allowed six sacks in 1,204 plays from scrimmage, according to Pro Football Focus. By comparison, Long gave up four – but in nearly six fewer games.

“If you have a short memory you might be willing to invest in Baker as a left tackle, a five-year pro for whom the light finally came on,” critiqued Pro Football Focus, which listed Baker as the seventh-best option on the market (Long was second).

“His 2012 season shows that he can achieve his potential as a left tackle, but if you sign him to start you’d best have a decent insurance policy if his old form returns.”

Whichever team signs Baker hopes his really old form return. As in his college days.

The 6-foot-5, 301-pound bulldozer was a monster at the University of Southern California, named a first-team All-American his final three years on campus. He opened up holes for Reggie Bush – another pending Dolphins free agent – during Bush’s Heisman campaign in 2005.

Since that fateful draft day in 2008, Baker has started 57 regular-season games and was a key piece to the Falcons’ run to the NFC Championship Game in January.

And now, five years later, he’ll once again likely join Long in the search for a new team.

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