Offseason question: Should the Redskins re-sign Chris Baker?

Chris Baker, Eli Manning

Chris Baker brings down Eli Manning in the season finale. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

When the Washington Redskins retained the services of backup defensive lineman Chris Baker last season, the team raised a couple eyebrows.

Baker had shown promise in limited action during his first full NFL season. But it was debatable over whether the salary cap-strapped Redskins could’ve found a more affordable alternative to paying Baker’s restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million in 2013. Washington also had veteran defensive linemen Barry Cofield, Adam Carriker, Stephen Bowen, Kedric Golston, Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Neild on the roster.

But it turned out that Carriker was still recovering from an injury that cost him the majority of his 2012 campaign, and on the eve of training camp learned that he would need another surgery, which wound up robbing him of another season. Also in training camp, the Redskins learned that Jenkins would miss the first four games of the regular season because of a drug suspension.

The Redskins began working Baker at both defensive end and nose tackle, and last season he went on to prove himself as a versatile, reliable piece of Washington’s defensive-line rotation. Late in the season, with Bowen lost to injury, Baker earned a starting job at right end and played well.

When discussing the priority moves for his unit this offseason, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett counted Baker among a handful of players that he wants Washington to re-sign.

A number of 3-4 defensive ends are expected to hit the market this offseason, including Antonio Smith, Tyson Jackson, Ropati Pitoitua, Ziggy Hood, Fili Moala and Mike Neal. But some of those players are coming off of disappointing seasons, and could be past their primes.

Baker, meanwhile, is still developing as a player and at just 26 years of age seems to have his best days ahead of him.

Despite starting only three games, Baker proved himself as one of Washington’s most productive defensive linemen. Cofield led the team with 32 tackles (17 solo) and 2.5 sacks, and Baker added 27 tackles (16 solo) and one sack. Jenkins had 22 tackles (12 solo) and two sacks, Bowen 19 tackles, (11 solo) and no sacks. Golston tallied 21 tackles (11 solo) and no sacks, and Neild, who seldom played, added six tackles (four solo).

Re-signing Baker also makes sense because of uncertainty hovering over both Carriker and Bowen. Carriker still is recovering from the multiple surgeries to his torn quadriceps tendon. After two years away from the game, it’s hard to say if he can make it back, and what type of impact he can have.

Bowen, meanwhile, also is coming off of injury and is recovering from microfracture surgery.

Money also puts both of those players’ futures in doubt. Carriker is owed $7 million (base salary of $4.7 million, plus roster bonuses), and Bowen’s deal carries a cap hit of $6 million this year. As of this week, the Redskins hadn’t had discussions regarding releasing either of them. But doing so remains a possibility.

Keeping Baker in the fold gives Washington a player with experience in their system at multiple positions, and who has proven himself capable of starting. And the Redskins shouldn’t have to break the bank to do so. The Redskins last season re-signed Golston to a three-year, $3.3 million contract, and likely would seek to sign Baker to a similar deal.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

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