TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued cleaning house of under-performing players Tuesday, releasing defensive tackle Chris Baker in a move that screams "accountability." It also suggests that the Bucs need to do a better job of vetting players they bring in from the outside.
Baker, aka "Swaggy," may have enjoyed a reputation as a carefree, friendly guy when he was with the Washington Redskins, but multiple sources said that his effort in practice was a constant issue when he was there. This wasn't something that was unearthed late during his time with the Bucs; it was a well-known fact that the coaching staff would have to ride Baker hard to get the most out of him.
Baker was brought in as an upgrade over former starter Clinton McDonald, but McDonald wound up with 5.0 sacks in just three starts, while Baker had one-half sack in 15 games and 14 starts. While McDonald battled some injuries, he was a steady workhorse who took pride in his job and in being a leader on the field and in the community.
Coupled with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, known as a max-effort guy, along with young workhorse Noah Spence, Baker wasn't a fit. It also became clear that when Baker transitioned from being a 3-4 defensive end in Washington to a 4-3 defensive tackle, he wasn't having the same type of success.
Then in Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers, when Baker had a costly penalty that wound up leading to the Panthers' game-winning touchdown, he was approached by Jameis Winston and Kwon Alexander about his lack of remorse for the penalty, resulting in a loud confrontation.
The Bucs will save $4.875 million with the move and won't owe Baker the guaranteed $3 million that he's due on the fifth day of the league year. That means they can now bring in some other free agents and pursue some much-needed defensive talent in the draft. But it's also a sign that once again, they continue to struggle with free agents in the Jason Licht era.
Defensive end Michael Johnson signed a five-year deal worth $43.5 million with $24 million guaranteed in 2014. That same year, they signed offensive tackle Anthony Collins to a five-year deal worth $30 million and $15 million guaranteed. The following year, in 2015, they signed linebacker Bruce Carter to a four-year deal worth $17 million. Collins had been a backup swing tackle most of his career, while Carter was an outside linebacker whom they wanted to move to middle linebacker. All were cut after just one season.
In 2017, the Bucs signed three-time Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward to a one-year, $5 million deal. He wasn't much of a scheme fit, either, playing in a system that didn't cater to his strengths in the box. He wound up serving in a rotational role and voiced his displeasure about not starting. He likely will not return. He wasn't signed to a multiyear contract, but that's a year that could have been invested in another player.
Bottom line: In a locker room filled with younger players in leadership roles, one that has prided itself on being a "family," the Bucs have to do a better job of vetting veteran players from both a scheme standpoint and a personality standpoint. Otherwise, they'll just continue to spin their wheels in free agency.