Jets, Baker need to find a way to coexist

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Arrived at the Jets complex on Thursday morning expecting to find a team toiling like bees.

Found that.

And a swarming hive.

Tight end Chris Baker stood near midfield after the morning practice and stuck it to the Jets like he feels they have stuck it to him.

TE comparison

The Jets have a crowded picture at tight end with Chris Baker as well as offseason-additions Bubba Franks and Dustin Keller.

Height: 6-3

Weight: 258

Starts: 38

NFL seasons: 6

Height: 6-6

Weight: 265

Starts: 93

NFL seasons: 8

Height: 6-3

Weight: 242

Starts: 0

NFL seasons: Rookie

You rarely find an NFL player on its property hold court like Baker did, for nearly 20 minutes letting it fly, blasting the team for, he says, reneging on its word. Piercing and punching them for not re-negotiating his contract. Using words like "tanked" when describing last year's 4-12 Jets flop that began in the offseason much like this one, with guard Pete Kendall slamming the team over failure to re-work his contract.

Kendall wound up with the Washington Redskins.

What will Baker do? The Jets?

"Imagine if coach Mangini was the third-highest-paid coach on his staff, you think he'd be happy about that?" Baker asked referring to his head coach, Eric Mangini. "You think he would allow that to happen? I mean, that's how I feel."

Baker, the Jets' full-time starting tight end in each of the last two seasons, has two years left on a contract that is scheduled to pay him $1.65 million this season. He says he took $1 million of that in an advance roster bonus last year to help the Jets' salary cap and that he expected that returned in new monies this year along with a new contract. He said that was what he was told by the Jets.

Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum replied that there is a "difference of opinion" about those conversations.

Tannenbaum said the Jets deal with each situation on a case-by-case basis, that Baker is under contract for this year and "I'll just leave it at that."

Actually, Tannenbaum had plenty to say when asked if the Jets -- considering such complaints in consecutive offseasons by Kendall and now Baker -- are building a reputation for lying to their players and agents about future deals.

"I've been fortunate enough to do this since 1997," Tannenbaum said. "I'm really comfortable with my track record, my reputation in the agent community, looking at grievances and holdouts over a long period of time. Right now we have 85 players here; I think 84 feel reasonably satisfied where they are with their contracts."

Ouch.

So, Baker is the exception, the Jets say.

Baker later told me: "I don't think it's going to work out. I don't think they are going to be fair. And I'm not going to be quiet. We've got a problem here. And it's not going to be a nice, quiet one."

What will Baker do? The Jets?

I say if the Jets can find a way to reach an agreement with Baker that makes both sides happy, do it. Any time before training camp is fine.

But the Jets should not let this linger into camp. They cannot afford it. Not coming from 4-12.

When you are 4-12, you need every ounce of energy focused on a turnaround. Baker may not have the profile of more glorified NFL tight ends, but he can cause quite a distraction. He's entering his seventh pro season from Michigan State. He grabbed a career-high 41 passes last season. He is 6-foot-3, 258 pounds, splendid size for the position. He is 28. His best football is ahead.

You retain Baker and mix him with veteran tight end Bubba Franks (in from Green Bay) and rookie tight end Dustin Keller from Purdue (the 30th overall pick in the draft) and you have an intriguing trio. A group that should help boost this Jets offense.

The offense a year ago finished 13th of the 16 AFC teams. It finished 26th overall. It scored 268 points. In comparison, the Super Bowl champion Giants scored 373 points. The Super Bowl losing Patriots scored 589 points. And the Jets, division rivals with New England, must catch the Patriots in the AFC East in order to do anything special beyond. Baker can help them do that.

So can Franks and Keller.

"I have always made plays in the red zone and that is something I want to continue to do in my career and feel that I can do here," Franks said. "Everyone here wants to put 4-12 behind us. And the way you start to do that is to win the division, a very tough division. We have different tight ends who can give us different looks."

Keller distinguished himself in college with his ability to run deep patterns at tight end as effectively as some wide receivers.

"I think I'll be able to split out some but also work from the inside, too," Keller said. "I'm still trying to get a feel for it all. But I believe I'm a well-rounded tight end. A playmaker. It is taking more and more true athletes to play the position."

Baker, Franks and Keller would give the Jets tight end depth and options.

Tannenbaum emphasized that he wants Baker. Tannebaum said that Brian Shottenheimer, the team's offensive coordinator, runs an offense that needs several tight ends and that Baker is a part of that mix.

But Baker is not feeling that way. Not now.

I know that teams are always leery of giving in to a player who demands a new contract. If teams did that for every player, there would not be a manageable budget or cap.

But this situation with Baker seems fixable.

Both sides must give a little.

Given where the Jets are (4-12), given that they have invested six seasons in Baker and now should reap the full dividends of that, given that the tight end position can be a major component to boosting their flat offense, given that Baker knows the schemes and would have to start over from scratch elsewhere, there is plenty of incentive all around to find a solution.

Baker did give this: "If it were to work out, it could be a lot of fun, some formations where we have all three of us on the field at the same time. I think we could be a real headache to a defense."

Better that than simply a headache.

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