The Atlanta Falcons corrected one of their biggest contract mistakes today when they released veteran tackle Sam Baker from his six year, $41.1 million contract. Since signing the contract Baker played in only four games, earning $18.25 million while being ineffective in whatever playing time he received and spending most of the time on IR. Baker had been set to count for $7.3 million against the salary cap and the team will create $4.5 million in cap space by cutting him. The Falcons will carry a $6.4 million charge for Baker in 2016, due to excessive bonuses paid to Baker in 2013 and 2014.
The Baker contract illustrates some of the shortcomings of the strategy of doing business in which a team utilizes multiple tiered prorated bonuses on big ticket players. When those players bust the fall is difficult. The Falcons would have lost cap room by releasing Baker prior to June 1 due to the high cap charge and even now the charge is significant in 2016. That’s the danger of these deals as even though there is no guarantee there is limited benefit to release. It is what we call a virtual or effective guarantee. If the contract contains no guarantees, it does leave June 1 open as a possibility and luckily for Atlanta there were no guarantees remaining in Baker’s contract.
I had though the best option for Atlanta this offseason would have been to negotiate Baker’s salary down, but they didn’t need the cap space so there was no rush to do it as they could have done it at any time had he stayed on the Falcons. It was going to be an uphill battle for him to remain at that salary. Baker is now free to sign with any team in the NFL.