TAMPA, Fla. -- It's taken a long time for new Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Chris Baker to feel wanted in the NFL, but he's never forgotten the one team that did make him feel like he belonged -- the Bucs.
Eight years ago, Baker, a college defensive tackle who played at Penn State and finished his college career at I-AA Hampton University, didn't hear his name called in the 2009 NFL draft. Fast forward to 2017, and he was one of the first major free agents to sign with a team on free agency's opening day.
"It’s weird that I’m back here, because during the whole [pre-draft] process my only visit from a team was to Tampa," said Baker, who signed a three-year deal worth $15.75 million, with $9 million guaranteed.
"It’s a good feeling to be back here. I remember during the draft process, [it was] probably one of the hardest times of my life, because I felt like no one wanted me," Baker said. "Turn around eight, nine years, you know, I’m here as a Buccaneer. It can’t be a better feeling.
"I had high hopes for getting drafted but that didn’t happen. I always was determined to just make myself into a great player and just continue to work as hard as I can to prove everyone wrong."
Off-the-field concerns didn’t help his cause. He pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and criminal trespassing charges stemming from two fights in 2007. He had originally been charged with felonies in both incidents, but those charges were dismissed. He was given two years’ probation, which ultimately led to a suspension and eventually getting kicked off the team in 2008.
After three years spent on three different practice squads (Denver, Miami and Washington) and suffering a quad injury that landed him on injured reserve in 2011, Baker finally made the 53-man roster for the Redskins in 2012.
He got his first start in 2013 and became a valuable part of the Redskins' defensive line, recording 9.5 sacks and five forced fumbles over the past two seasons.
Not many 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive tackles can rush the passer like Baker or have the ability to line up all across the defensive line, playing nose tackle, three-technique and defensive end in a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. That's something that caught the eye of general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter.
"Chris has explosive quickness, he can get off blocks and make plays down the line, he brings rush ability, he brings versatility," Koetter said. "He’s going to fit in great."