Over the last two years, linebacker Jerome Baker has somewhat quietly been the Miami Dolphins' most prolific defender.
Having combined for 238 tackles in that span, Baker's been the team's leading tackler in each of the past two seasons and is coming off a 2020 showing in which he added a career-high seven sacks.
Despite the production, the 24-year-old realizes he still has much to improve upon and he wants to do it in Miami. Thusly, Baker's been front and center at Dolphins organized team activities despite being on the final year of his rookie contract with apparently no talk of a new deal.
"I want to play here for the rest of my career. I love it here," Baker told reporters Friday. "I love the fans. I love the organization. I love everybody here. Yeah, I definitely see myself playing here for a long time."
Picked in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft in the final year of the Adam Gase era, Baker is now headed for the final season of his rookie contract, due $2.43 million, per Over The Cap.
Per the Miami tackle machine, there's been no conversations about a new contract thus far, but Baker was hardly talkative about the situation.
"I'm out here," Baker said. "I'm just doing my thing. All that stuff is going to figure itself out."
"I mean, we haven't really talked about anything. I'm just going into this year and …"
What follows that and will tell the story beyond 2021 for Baker. For now, he's saying all the right things and carrying on with a team-first mantra, as evidenced by his attendance at voluntary workouts and the wide grin during the explanation of why he's doing so.
"Why was it important? I love this team. I love being out there. I just love being on the team; and just being out here, getting back to football, it ultimately helps me in the long run," Baker said. "The contract stuff is the contract stuff. I really don't care for it right now. I honestly just missed being out there with all the guys, especially all the personalities we have, the new guys. And ultimately just learning and getting better. I love to play football. That's honestly why I'm out here. That's what I love to do and I just want our team to get better."
Though current head coach Brian Flores wasn't around to draft Baker, he certainly speaks well of him after two seasons of coaching the linebacker.
"Jerome has made a lot of improvements and has gotten better in really all areas," Flores said Friday. "I think he's tough, he's smart, he's competitive, he loves to play, he's team-first. He's really gotten better in every area – pass coverage, run defense, really across the board. He's a very good player. We're excited about working with him and he's a team guy. I think that's the thing I liked most about him is he's a team player. He wants to win and we're excited to have him."
It's apparent Baker believes in the team and believes in improving to do right by it.
Though his statistics boast productivity, a deeper look unveils he needs to shore up his ability in the run game in particular, but in all assets really as a developing talent. Overall, Baker had a less-than-stellar 55.2 grade via Pro Football Focus in 2020 despite his 112 tackles and seven sacks. It was underlined by a 47.4 grade in run defense. To add further perspective, though, and perhaps some defense for the defender, his 55.2 grade put him at No. 37 among linebackers, which found him one spot behind the Bills' Matt Milano and above notables such as the Chargers' Kenneth Murray, the Jaguars' Joe Schobert and the Cowboys' Jaylon Smith -- those last two being owners of lucrative deals.
Credit to Baker, he realizes his shortcomings and is endeavoring to improve them. If he can do that and his teammates are at their finest, he believes excellence lies ahead -- and that new contract will take care of itself.
"For me, it's really locking in the run game," he said. "I definitely know all the chatter of all of that, but I definitely look at myself in the mirror. I know what I need to do to get better and for me, it's locking in on the run game and being one of those linebackers that secures the inside, not just in the passing game, but in the run game. That's just my own personal goal, but ultimately what I want for this defense is to be one of the best in the league, and we definitely have the coaches, we definitely have the organization behind us and ultimately we've got to go out there as a defense and prove it every year, every game."