Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chris Baker: Completely Out of Line

Don't let the mainstream media fool you.

While the New York Jets may have mishandled the Pete Kendall situation last season, don't let them convince you they're doing it again with tight end Chris Baker.

To refresh your memory, Kendall got in a verbal dispute with Jets management last season. After restructuring his contract the year before, he believed the Jets told him they would give him a raise, but the Jets would not budge. He took the case public, and an ugly situation brewed, finally ending with a trade to Washington.

One year later, on the surface, it would seem as if the Jets were not treating their employees correctly. Baker restructured his contract last season, and now he, too, believes the Jets offered to give him a raise the next season.

Let's delve a little deeper and take a look at the facts.

The restructuring of Baker's contract last season involved fronting $700,000 of his contract, which did not exactly take a toll on Baker. With two years on his contract, Baker might think he's underpaid, but at the same time, he signed the contract. Average tight ends don't get to make outlandish claims and be disruptions.

Despite Baker's claims, it appears like he planned this. After all, the conversation that he alleges GM Mike Tannenbaum had was with his former agent Cliff Brady. Baker fired Brady this offseason in favor of Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod, the same agents Pete Kendall had last season. Baker wanted to get a raise, so he hired agents that he felt would cause a stir.

But, the strangest thing about this whole dispute is that Baker has absolutely no leverage. He had re-signed with the Jets in the spring of 2006 after not generating much interest in the open market. He is the third highest-paid tight end on the roster, with Bubba Franks making slightly more and Dustin Keller slated to sign for even more than that.

That competition actually hurts Baker's leverage. With Keller and Franks in the fold, as well as third-year pro Jason Pociask, the Jets can replace Baker. No one is as well rounded as Baker, but Baker is a JAG (just another guy). He can block and catch, but he generates no separation and doesn't get open enough.

Entering his seventh year, Baker is most likely what he is. It's not likely that his production will spike, in which case Baker is making a pretty fair contract for his numbers. Last year's 41 catches and 409 yards set career highs, but a lot of that had to do with the ineptitude of the offensive line and the receiving corps, outside of the starters, forcing check-downs.

Besides, if the Jets won't budge for Kendall, who filled a need at a position the Jets had no replacement, why would they budge for Baker?

So Chris, if you want to try and cause a distraction in camp, go ahead. Just don't expect many people to back you up.


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