Patriots release Baker, leaving TE void

The New England Patriots on Thursday released veteran Chris Baker, leaving just two unproven tight ends on the team's roster as free agency approaches.

Baker was signed as a free agent last offseason. He finished with 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns in 2009, with his primary impact coming as a blocker. With fellow tight end Benjamin Watson scheduled for unrestricted free agency, the Patriots have a considerable void to fill at the position.

Baker's contract had been extended through 2013, although there was a significant bonus prior to the 2011 season that essentially made it a two-year deal. He was scheduled to make $2 million in base salary in 2010.

The Patriots are also operating without an official tight ends coach at this time, so this is a spot where there figures to be significant turnover.

The Baker move was unexpected, especially considering Watson's status. If he doesn't return to the Patriots, that leaves only the untested Rob Myers and Robbie Agnone on the roster.

This year's free-agent crop is considered weak at the position, with Watson one of the top options. As for the draft, analysts consider it deep at the position. A trade is always a possibility and this could intensify the chatter around perhaps acquiring Greg Olsen from the Bears.

Baker played in every game in 2009 and was on the field for 61 percent of the team's snaps, with his primary contributions coming as a blocker. He finished with 14 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

When he caught two touchdown passes in the preseason opener at Philadelphia, it looked like the Patriots had found an impressive piece to add to the offense. Yet that turned out to be one of the high points of Baker's one-year stay with the team.

Now, the Patriots have a big question at tight end.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.