Baker looking to re-capture top grades


Chris Baker had some honor grades playing under Jacob Burney and Jim Haslett in Washington.

The Bengals are looking to re-sign a handful of their own players when free agency starts next week, but they've already been pretty active looking at veterans already on the market that they think can help them shore up some weaknesses.

Tony Paige, the agent for former Washington and Tampa Bay defensive tackle Chris Baker, said his client has agreed to a one-year deal as the Bengals try to beef up the middle of a defense that finished third from the NFL bottom in allowing rushing yards per game.

 That came a week after eight-year safety Kurt Coleman visited them at Paul Brown Stadium and in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine with his 21 career interceptions. Before he decided to sign in New Orleans, Coleman's picks had been the lure for a defense that finished next to last in the NFL in generating 14 turnovers. 

And two weeks before that the Bengals signed veteran Giants right tackle Bobby Hart as the Bengals revamp an offensive line reeling from finishing last in offense and next to last in yards per rush. It's a spot teeming with questions. Right tackle Andre Smith, who started eight games in place of the ill Jake Fisher, is one of those free agents they'd like to re-sign. Fisher has been cleared after having surgery to repair an irregular heartbeat.

The 6-2, 300-pound Baker, 30, got cut by Tampa Bay two weeks ago a year after signing a three-year, $15.75 million contract with $6 million guaranteed. Like Hart, he became a controversial locker-room figure late in the year. His offsides penalty on fourth-and-3 at the 5-yard line in the dying minutes led to Carolina's come-back victory and teammates objected to what they thought was Baker's smiling attitude about it.

But the list of solid Bengals who contributed mightily with a fresh start is long. Just in this last decade you're talking about Cedric Benson, Chris Crocker, Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Wallace Gilberry, and this past year Chris Smith.

Plus, Baker has two influential voices in his corner that wanted him here. Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney and linebackers coach Jim Haslett were with him in Washington when he signed undrafted out of Hampton in 2011 following a stint in Denver. Haslett, then the defensive coordinator, and Burney moved on after the 2015 season, but during '15 and '16 Baker played some big-time ball at 6-2, 320 pounds playing all three downs. He was a 3-4 end for Washington and displayed a terrific blend of athleticism and physicality when rated him No. 11 among 3-4 ends in '15 and No. 6 in '16 along with this evaluation:

"An underrated player, Baker has produced at a high level the past two seasons and finished 2016 seeing a career high in snaps with 782. Baker will never be an elite talent but his consistency the past two seasons means that team looking for quality interior defenders would be hard pressed to find a better bargain. A better run defender than a pass-rusher, Baker still creates pressure with 13 sacks, 17 hits and 55 hurries over that timeframe. Averaging 29 defensive stops, Baker is a complete player and will be a player that improves any defense he'll play for in 2017."

Baker, an outgoing sort with teammates and media, pushed back on Twitter asking why he couldn't be elite. He'll get the chance here. He'll not only be re-invigorated by Haslett and Burney, but it's been reported he's down to 300 pounds.

Baker goes into the tackle mix trying to get a toe-hold next to Pro Bowl three technique Geno Atkins with youngsters Ryan Glasgow, Andrew Billings, DeShawn Williams and Josh Tupou. Chris Smith, one of last season's bright spots after arriving in a trade from Jacksonville, is versatile pass rusher at end and tackle they'd like to re-sign in free agency. The Baker deal indicates veteran run stuffer Pat Sims isn't coming back after two stints with the club that began with his selection in the third round of the 2008 draft.

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