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The case for keeping Chris Baker

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The Bucs defensive line did improve in some ways.

NFL: DEC 18 Falcons at Buccaneers Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

During the free agency period of 2016, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in search of defensive line help, particularly someone to play opposite of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. All eyes were directed at former defensive tackle Dontari Poe. That is not who the Bucs signed in free agency. It was another defensive tackle, Chris Baker.

There were stats bandied about when the Bucs signed Baker that he can perform similarly to Poe, except that he did not cost as much as Poe. Poe has an $8 million contract for only one year with the Falcons. Baker has a $15 mil contract for three years, or $5.25 million per year. Rounding off, Baker costs $3 million less dollars than Poe on a per year basis.

Here, Poe has accrued two more sacks, but one fewer solo tackles. Do Poe’s additional 2 sacks make him worth an additional $3 million dollars? One way to gauge this is to see the impact each player has on the team. Although, an additional 2 sacks is obvious enough that it is not worth an additional $3 million, it is nice to use other contexts.

Total Team Sacks

Atlanta’s total sacks = 39

TB’s total sacks = 22

Sack Rate, with respect to the team

Poe’s sack/(total team sacks) % = 6.4%

Bakers’ sack/(total team sacks) % =2.2%

They both are underwhelming in sacks with respect to the total team production. With both under 10% productions, no one will mistake them for a pass rushing defensive end.

Advantage, with respect to salary: Baker

Total Team Tackles

Using ESPN’s records.

Atlanta’s total tackles = 1018

TB’s total tackles = 1056

Tackle Rate, with respect to the team

Poe’s total tackles/(total team total tackles) % = 3.8%

Bakers’ total takcles/(total team total tackles) % =3.1%

Poe has a 0.7% rate advantage, but is that worth $3 million more?

Advantage, with respect to salary: Baker

Third Down Attempts, 2016 – 2017

The Falcons dropped in inducing more third down attempts this year with Poe on the defensive line.

Tampa increased its production of inducing more third down attempts. Last year, the Bucs had the best defensive third down efficiency, but could not produce enough attempts. This year, our swashbucklers increased the third down attempts, but were ranked last in the league with third down efficiency. The third down deficiency is a whole other matter, but I do not want to divert the focus of this article. Here is an article that does give a hint at one of the possible factors: Defensive Line Health

Recall, the point of getting Baker was to help stop the run and induce more third downs, including third-and-long situations. From the linked article above, Defensive Line Health, notice that Gerald McCoy’s tackles for loss, TFL, rate ballooned. All this happened while we lost linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David for a few games. Also, Robert Ayers regressed and Noah Spence got injured and only played 6 games.

Did the addition of Baker help improve inducing more third down attempts? Yes.

Advantage, with respect to team impact: Baker

Advantage, with respect to salary: Baker

Football Outsider’s Defensive Metrics, 2016 – 2017

Atlanta’s rush defense did make a noticeable improvement. Note, negative ratings are good ratings for the team.

Tampa’s rush defense also improved between the two seasons. Unfortunately, their passing defense fell off the edge of the Earth in their search for the elixir of life, rumored to be hidden within Florida as they lacked health for their pass rushing defensive corps.

Advantage, with respect to team impact on rush defense: Draw

Advantage, with respect to salary: Baker

With the scope looking at this year, Baker comes in cheaper than Poe and the statistical productions are not so vast from one another individually. Grabbing Baker over Poe was the correct choice.

Chris Baker’s Butterfly Effect

Chris Baker started 14 of 15 games. Everyone wants to look at individual stats and that be the end all, be all of things. Lost is context. Baker came to the Bucs as a left end from a 3-4 defense. Tampa utilizes a 4-3 defense where Baker is now a nose tackle. While Baker does not have amazing individual stats, his impact for the team has been shown with impact in both the run defense and producing more third down opportunities. This is with DE Noah Spence only playing 6 games, DE Robert Ayers regressing, LB Lavonte David being out for 3 games, and LB Kwon Alexander limited to 12 games. The previous year, Spence, David, and Alexander played in all 16 games. Ayers played in 12 games for both seasons.

Now, let us look at productions within the Bucs’ defensive line. Let us compare the interior play from the ends from 2016 and 2017.

2016 DTs v DEs

This chart establishes the control group to compare 2017 productions. Please note that McDonald is the starting defensive tackle playing opposite of Gerald McCoy.

2017 DTs v DEs

The interior of the defensive line produced similarly in sacks, but did increase in TFL metrics. They improved while the ends regressed greatly. That is very impressive. There was an increase in pressure in the backfield in 2017 while not having a lot of help from the defensive ends. McDonald came in as a reserve role with Baker starting ahead of him.

Conclusion

It is possible that we maybe underrating Baker starting next to McCoy and calling his signing a bust. Yet, the defensive interior production, third down opportunities, and rush defense all improved despite the lack of production from the ends and the multitude of injuries that affect the run game. Imagine if the Bucs possessed production of 2016 defensive ends with the 2017 defensive interior linemen?

The Bucs kept head coach Dirk Koetter for another year after a dismal record of 5 – 11. Jason Licht saw beyond the win-loss record. Licht grabbed Baker to help improve the run defense and induce more third downs. It is icing on the cake if Baker can also get sacks. This year’s team stats reveal that the addition of Baker to the interior line did improve those two areas of concern. A surprise nugget was the interior production improved when the defensive ends were lacking this year.

With the Bucs needing talent on the defensive ends, offensive line, cornerback, running back, and safety positions, it feels like a mistake to get rid of Baker to create yet another hole to fill. Considering that DT Clinton McDonald is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the prudent action would be to keep Baker for 2018.

Individual statistics do not reveal the affect Baker has had for this team. Again, with all the injuries on the defensive side, there was improvement. We have 2016 production to compare that with, as we had Akeem Spence as the reserve DT and McDonald as the starting DT.

The picture for this article shows Chris Baker (90) and two Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman about to engage Baker. Baker is commanding a double team. Stats do not tell you that he is commanding a double team. If Baker is commanding a double team, then, by the numbers, there should be a lot of 1-vs-1 situations in the trenches. Apparently, Baker does induce a butterfly effect.