Yesterday the Redskins announced the re-signing of defensive lineman Chris Baker to what was reported at the time a 3 year $12 million deal. At first that looked liked the Redskins may have overpaid and got desperate. After the details of that deal later came out, it was clear that it was a smart signing for Washington. While the Redskins locked up Baker, they still need to add at least one starting caliber DL, and probably a back-up as well, if they want to have a quality defensive line.
Baker has gotten better each year with the Redskins and had a couple really solid games last year. He’s still an inconsistent player, who will disappear at times in games (or for entire games) and is not as strong of a pass rusher as you’d like. Still Baker was the Redskins 2nd best defensive lineman last year (which says more about the state of the unit), so retaining him at a good price is smart. He’s versatile enough to play the nose tackle, nickel inside rusher, or the 5 technique. He has flashed potential for more during his time in Washington, and hopefully this contract will allow the Redskins to see that potential develop.
Baker’s deal when you break it down is really a 3 year $9 million deal, with an extra $3 million in unlikely to be earned incentives. This keeps his cap number between $2 million this season and as high as $4 million in the final year of the deal. If Baker does earn any of those incentives that money will be applied to the following season’s cap, but at least that money is only earned if Baker reaches certain benchmarks. Having Baker’s deal structured this way makes a lot more sense than a true $4 million a year average. At that price you would probably expect Baker to start, and if he didn’t you were likely overpaying. Now at a lower rate, Baker should still be in line to compete for a starting role, but if he ends up as a back-up it’s not as much of an overpay.
On a defensive line it’s good to not tie up too much money into a player unless you know they are going to play 80% or more of the snaps. It’s a rotational position by it’s very nature (particularly in a 3-4) and typically you will pull one of the linemen when you are in a nickel package. You don’t want to spend too much on players who may only play 50% (or less) of the snaps. Even if Baker earns the starting role, he could end up in this category, as he’s not really an every down guy. That’s what makes this contract a win for the Redskins, as it doesn’t pay him too much for unlocking his potential, but he can still be rewarded if he earns enough playing time and production.
Though it is nice to Baker back in the fold, the Redskins are far from done along the defensive line. Barry Cofield is locked into one starting role, but beyond him the Redskins depth chart is pretty much unknown. Baker will compete for one of the starting jobs or at worse will be a rotational player who plays about 50% of the snaps. Beyond him the Redskins don’t have much to work with. Former 2nd round pick Jarvis Jenkins is entering his contract year, but he’s missed 20 games of his career due to an ACL injury and a suspension. When he has played he’s been average at best, and overall pretty non-descript. Right now he’d be set as a starter, which is a bit of a scary thought. Other than him the Redskins have Kedric Golston who is below average and is at best the 6th or 7th man on the line, Chris Neild, who hasn’t been that good, and Doug Worthington, who’s barely ever played. I didn’t include veterans Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker, because both players should be cut which will clear $5 million in cap room this year.
The Redskins need at least one more starting player, and ideally a developmental guy as well. Ideally that starter (either a draft pick or veteran) would be closer (or better than) to the talent level of Barry Cofield to give the Redskins another top guy along the line. For the developmental guy, it could be more of a late round player or a cheap free agent with some promise, but who hasn’t put it together just yet. If the Redskins want to get back to having a top 10 defense, one of the best things they can do is having a strong front line. The top 3-4 teams almost always have at least one star along the line, and right now the Redskins are really missing that. Baker re-signing helps this unit, but it’s not enough if the Redskins are serious about getting better as a team.