It was 2012, just two seasons ago, when Sam Baker manned the Falcons line for all 16 games of the regular season, and then on to the postseason, all the way to the NFC Championship game.
Some thought he finally was ready to anchor the left side of the Falcons line after a career fraught with inconsistency and injury. The Falcons obviously did. They gave him a new (non-guaranteed) 6-year, $41 million contract.
The fact is, when Baker was right, the Falcons were good. In both seasons he played all 16 games (2010 and '12), the Falcons won 13 of them.
On Monday, in a 54-word statement, the Falcons announced they had released Baker.
Just like that – poof – a player who was fitted for the role of cornerstone lineman was history. No recounting of glories past. No best wishes. Just a terse statement, containing all the sentiment of an eviction notice.
Don’t let the suddenness and brevity of Baker’s dismissal understate the impact of his Falcons career. He represents a fail that continues to be felt to this day as the team struggles to make sense of its offensive line.
Think how differently this offense might have evolved had Baker been as good as advertised when he arrived here in 2008 from Southern Cal, where he was a three-time All American and road grader for the likes of Reggie Bush and Matt Leinhart. As he dealt with a string of injuries (most crippling were a series of back troubles compounded by patella tendon tears in 2013 and ’14), his absence sent ripples of instability throughout the line.
By last season, Baker’s only mention was as a member of Grantland’s All-Bad Contracts Team.
First the Falcons took Matt Ryan in the 2008 draft. Then they traded up to take a player who was going to be his long-time bodyguard – Baker.
Yet, here we are in the summer of 2015 and the search for a stout body or two capable of keeping Ryan vertical continues with great urgency.