TAMPA – When NFL.com put together it’s ranking of the best 101 free agents just ahead of the start of the free agency-signing period last week, it threw no shade on defensive tackle Chris Baker.
Baker came in at a very respectable No. 26 overall and sixth among all defensive linemen behind the likes of Calais Campbell (2), Brandon Williams (3) and Dontari Poe (10) all of whom earned a spot in the Top 10.
You still have to wonder, though, if Baker might have been underrated a little bit. After all, if you go just by the stats he’s posted the last two years, Baker has been more productive than at least two of those.
Baker signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract with the Buccaneers last week after recording 101 tackles, 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 32 games played mostly at left end in the Redskins 3-4 front.
Over the same period of time and in the same number of games but with six more starts than Baker, Poe recorded 66 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles while playing all across the Chiefs line.
Williams, meanwhile, played in and started all 32 games as well, all of them at nose tackle for the Ravens, and he finished up that two-year period with 106 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble.
Again, going by statistics alone, there was only one defensive linemen ranked in the Top 10 of all free agents who truly out-produced Baker over the last two years and that was Campbell, who did so just barely.
Playing mostly end for the Cardinals, Campbell recorded 114 tackles, 13 sacks and two forced fumbles the last two years, numbers that garnered him a new four-year, $60 million contract with the Jaguars.
You have to ask yourself, then, who was the better bargain? It sure seems as if it was Baker, who also outperformed the other two free-agent defensive lineman ranked ahead of him in NFL.com’s best 101.
Those other two were Giants tackle Johnathan Hankins, who had 73 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and is still looking for work, and Patriots tackle Alan Branch (84, 2.5, 3), who re-signed with New England.
Cashing in is what free agency is all about for the players but for the teams it’s as much about getting the right player at the right price, and the Bucs appear to have done a superb job of that here.