The early hours of free agency have brought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers big help on both sides of the ball.
On Thursday afternoon, the Buccaneers agreed to terms with defensive lineman Chris Baker on a multi-year contract. That news came at roughly the same time the team was announcing the acquisition of big-play wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Both Baker and Jackson were unrestricted free agents, coincidentally both coming over from the Washington Redskins.
Pictures of newly added Buccaneers DT Chris Baker from his career with the Redskins.
While Jackson is expected to provide an explosive element to the offense that has been missing, Baker can do the same thing for the Buccaneers' interior line on defense. The 6-2, 320-pound lineman played end in Washington's 3-4 defense front but will be a good fit as a defensive tackle in Tampa Bay's 4-3 scheme. Baker, who has notched 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons provides a complementary force up the middle to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
"Heading into free agency, Chris was one of our priority targets on the defensive side of the ball," said General Manager Jason Licht. "He is a big, athletic player who has developed into a disruptive interior linemen over the past three years. He will be a great addition to our defensive line and a solid fit in Mike Smith's defensive system."
The NFL's free agency period began at 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, but teams had the previous two days to discuss potential contract parameters with the representatives of pending free agents. Teams could not extend a formal offer, speak to a player or arrange travel for a free agent until free agency began. After the bell rang at 4:00 p.m., the Buccaneers got busy with the necessary work to make their two big additions official.
Baker originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Hampton with the Denver Broncos in 2009. He played in just two games with the Broncos and Miami Dolphins over his first two seasons but in 2011 landed in Washington, where his career began to flourish. After splitting the '11 campaign between the practice squad and injured reserve, Baker appeared in 29 games in 2012-13, making three starts. He then moved into the starting lineup for good in 2014. Over the next three seasons he played in 47 games with 39 starts, racking up 141 tackles, 11.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four passes defensed.
The Buccaneers' defense tied for ninth in the NFL in 2016 with 38 sacks, and ranked ninth in sacks per pass play (6.1). McCoy led the way with 7.0 sacks on the way to his fifth straight Pro Bowl but most of the rest of the Bucs' pressure came from the edge, including 6.5 for Robert Ayers, 5.5 for then-rookie Noah Spence and 5.0 for blitzing linebacker Lavonte David. Veteran defensive tackle Clinton McDonald did add 3.5 sacks while missing a quarter of the season due to injury, but the Buccaneers could clearly use another source of pressure on the interior line.
Tampa Bay's defense engineered a stunning turnaround in the middle of Mike Smith's first year as the coordinator last fall. Over the last eight weeks, the Buccaneers allowed the fourth-fewest points per game, forced the most turnovers and tied for fifth in sacks recorded. The team has already taken steps to keep that momentum going in 2017, with Smith returning to his post after entertaining head coaching offers and defensive end Will Gholston signing a five-year contract extension. Now, the addition of Baker to a deep and talented front line should accelerate that process even further.