A Closer Look at Chris Baker's Contract Situation
The relationship between New York Jets starting Tight End Chris Baker and the organization has gotten ugly. The rift seemingly began when unnamed players began commenting on the free agent spending spree the Jets embarked on in the opening days of free agency giving huge deals to Kris Jenkins, Alan Faneca, Calvin Pace and Damien Woody. “You pay guys you don’t even know, and the guys in the locker room- the guys that have your back- you don’t give a damn about them” was quoted from an anonymous source by Rich Cimini of the Daily News, and it is likely that if those sentiments did not come from Baker himself, he certainly shared those feelings with whomever the quote came from. Two weeks later the Jets signed free agent Bubba Franks to a 1 year deal worth a reported 1.65 million dollars to play alongside and possibly replace Baker in the starting lineup.
The situation really got ugly around April 24th when Baker left the teams offseason workouts and hired new agents, Jon Feinsod and Neil Schwartz, to represent him. Schwartz battled the Jets last season over disgruntled veteran Guard Pete Kendall and 1st round rookie standout Darrelle Revis, so he would likely be ready to go to war with the Jets front office again over Baker. The stories began circulating that the Jets front office promised Baker more money if he played well, very similar to the stories of Kendall in the spring of 2007. Baker has stated that he has “outperformed his contract” and deserves more. In response the Jets used a first round draft pick on a tight end, Dustin Keller of Purdue, which caused Baker to seek a trade. The Jets declined and expect him to report to camp on time. It is doubtful that will happen unless the Jets pay Baker more money, a move that would seem unlikely.
In the last two years, since the new CBA went into effect, spending has gone somewhat out of control in the NFL. Players are getting huge guaranteed deals that would have never commanded that kind of money under the old CBA agreement. Baker signed his contract with the Jets in the spring of 2006 coming off four non descript seasons where he started a total of 8 games for the team and never caught more than 18 passes in a season. Spending in the NFL was more under control at the time Baker signed his deal and the Jets were in a position where they had to work around the salary cap due to some poor contracts signed by the previous regime headed up by Terry Bradway. The Jets gave Baker what would have been considered a very generous deal at the time- 4 years and nearly 7 million dollars with 1.7 million guaranteed.
Baker earned the starting job in training camp and has performed average as a starter for the team in 2006 and 2007. Over the last two seasons Baker has ranked 20th in receptions and yards per game amongst starting tight ends. He has been a slightly better red zone target ranking 16th in touchdowns and has only missed 1 game in the last two years, which rates in the top half of the NFL amongst starting tight ends. Baker is considered an average blocker. So in light of his performance has Baker outperformed his contract? Probably not.
Baker’s 4 year deal averages about 1.73 million dollars per year, a figure close to what a late first round pick would receive from an NFL team. Looking at the compensation per year that will be earned by all of the other starting tight ends in the NFL Baker’s compensation can be put in context. The median compensation- base salary, prorated signing bonus, roster bonus and workout bonus money- per year for a starting tight end is approximately 2.03 million dollars per year from 2006 thru 2009, which is the length of Baker’s current contract. Kellen Winslow of the Cleveland Brows ranks number 1 making around 5.07 million a year in compensation. Baker ranks 21st.
One could make an argument that Baker could be paid slightly more to push him up to the 19th or 20th paid player in the league, but it has to be taken into account that most of the people who jumped above Baker only have done so because they signed new deals in 2007 and 2008. Bakers base salary the last two years has been in the top 10 in the NFL at that position, so he has been paid very well over the first two years of his deal, including the team paying him over 1.5 million dollars in 2007.
The fact is every year free agents get paid more and more for their services if they can find a home and that has upset Baker. It is a situation Baker could have avoided by simply signing a 2 year contract with the Jets rather than allowing the Jets to control his rights for 4 years. But the contract was fair in 2006 and even in 2008 still stands up against other middle of the road players that start in the NFL. Seeing players like Ben Utecht and Vishante Shiancoe getting bigger contracts than Baker has to be upsetting, just like how some veterans were probably unhappy seeing Baker getting a 4 year deal after starting 8 games in 4 years.
Would there be big interest in Baker if he was released from his deal? He would certainly find a job, but if he believes a team is going to break the bank for him he is probably mistaken. The Utecht’s of the world are getting bigger deals because they are young, have shown flashes, and have been stuck behind an established starter like Dallas Clark or Jeremy Shockey their entire career. Baker no longer has the potential. He is now entering his seventh season in the NFL and has been given an opportunity to start for two full years. When he was a potential based player he chose to resign with the Jets rather than going elsewhere for whatever reason. NFL teams have already seen what he can and can not do. Its unlikely a team would give him more than a two year deal or big guaranteed money.
So when and how does this situation end? It is in the Jets best interest to make the situation go away before it turns into a circus. The Jets allowed the Kendall drama to play out too far into camp and it became a major distraction for the team. The media has to be salivating at the chance to turn the Jets camp upside down getting quote after quote after quote from yet another player who is ready to leave town. This can not happen again in 2008. The Jets need to spend their preseason getting their new pieces all on the same page and making sure the team is prepared for the season opener not fighting with a player that is not an integral part of the team. Baker doesn’t deserve more money, but the Jets don’t deserve a player like Baker dominating the news in July and August. The Jets can use Chris Baker in 2008, but they certainly can and will survive without him.