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Oft-Injured Baker Closed Shop And Left Ryan's Sundays Tasting Bitter

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Falcons LT Sam Baker was drafted in 2008 to protect fellow first round pick Matt Ryan's blind side, but has been largely ineffective due to inconsistency and injuries. Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images.
Falcons LT Sam Baker was drafted in 2008 to protect fellow first round pick Matt Ryan's blind side, but has been largely ineffective due to inconsistency and injuries. Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images.

During the 2008 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons were in need of a left tackle capable of protecting new franchise QB Matt Ryan's blind side. Ryan, who had been selected with the third overall pick, was set to join a team that lacked a capable veteran at the all-important position on the offensive line.

In that 2008 draft, six players carried consensus first round grades at the left tackle position. This list included players such as Pro Bowlers Jake Long and Ryan Clady. If there is one situation that can cause even the most relaxed general manager to sweat on draft day, it is when the run on a position of need begins.

As the first round unfolded, the run on left tackles started as Clady was selected by the Denver Broncos 12th overall. Chris Williams and Branden Albert quickly followed at 14th and 15th, respectively. Gosder Cherilus and Jeff Otah then found landing spots at 17 and 19.

In desperate need of a tackle to man the left side, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff traded back into the first round and drafted Sam Baker out of Southern California. The trade cost the Falcons two second round picks as well as a fourth rounder but landed them Baker, along with third and fifth round picks.

This was the start of a very expensive and frustrating journey that now has many Falcons fans asking if the team made a mistake beginning with the move for Baker in 2008.

Baker has been a regular target for the disappointment of Atlanta fans. Baker started five games as a rookie in 2008 before becoming the full-time starter in 2009. However, his career has been plagued by lingering injuries. His 2011 campaign featured only six starts as the tackle battled injury and ineffectiveness. In 2012, Baker played the finest season of his pro career, which also just happened to be his contract year.

Signing a 4-year, $40 million contract this past offseason, Baker is back on injured reserve with a knee injury after starting just three games for the 2013 Falcons. With a now $100 million quarterback in Ryan, Atlanta's front office has very little time or tolerance for a player that can't stay healthy and protect their largest investment.

A first round pick of a new left tackle in 2014 seems highly likely, and at the very least, advisable.