With head coach Eric Mangini standing in the background, tight end Chris Baker took a stark look into the future. As the New York Jets hit the practice field at Weeb Ewbank Hall in Hempstead, N.Y. for the start of their three-day mini-camp, the team’s 2007 starting tight end sounded off on his contract situation.
“I’ve been here seven years and I’ve always done what they’ve asked me to do and it’s disrespectful to see where my salary is at,” Baker said. “If they wouldn’t want to keep me here for the rest of my career, then I’ve got to move forward.”
Baker, who recently sat out the team’s Organized Team Activities, (OTA’s) is currently in the third year of a four-year contract which pays him an average of $1.65 million annually. However, Baker is embroiled in a dispute with management over the deal, which has grown so heated that the tight end cannot picture himself as a member of Gang Green for the season-opener on September 7.
“If things stay the way they are then no, I don’t see how that’s possible. I don’t want that to be the case, but I don’t see how that’s possible," he said.
Baker remains adamant that he was promised before last season by management to re-structure his contract this off-season, which was to be determined by his on-field production. In other words, to Baker, the message was 'produce and get paid.' Baker ended the 2007 season with 41 catches for 409 yards and three touchdowns, which were respectable numbers for his position. However, he never received his deal.
“If you don’t get something in writing then you might as well take it with a grain of salt," Baker stated today. "Obviously those things haven’t held up to the end of the bargain. Last year I went out and had my best year since I’ve been here and I don’t know what else they ask me to do,” Baker said.
Gang Green forwarded Baker money to help the team deal with the salary cap, but that was not the deal the tight end was hoping for.
“They said thank you for helping us out and that’s what it was,” Baker said. “Now they’re trying to say that we re-did the contract last year, but no, that was for the team.”
The contract dispute marks the second consecutive season the team has dealt with such an issue. Last year, guard Pete Kendall was in the same situation with management until he was finally traded just weeks before the start of the regular season. Baker believes that Kendall’s situation dealt a critical blow to the team.
“The situation, it was ridiculous," Baker said. “It basically tanked our season last year. His situation wasn’t a good one, it wasn’t a pretty situation.”
Mangini disagreed with Baker’s view.
“I’ve been on teams that have lost players to start the season, they’ve lost players during the season and it’s a good group of guys that we had last year and it’s a good group of guys that we have this year…I saw consistency in their effort and their approach,” Mangini said.
Only time will tell whether or not Baker’s situation delivers Gang Green a severe blow.
Cornerbacks Kenny Patton and Andre Woolford, long snapper James Dearth and safety Artrell Hawkins all were held out of drills today with lingering injuries. Mangini followed his usual approach, as he did not disclose the severity of the injuries. Rookie quarterback Erik Ainge (finger) was again held out of passing drills, as he continued to wear a protective glove on his throwing hand. Wide receiver Brad Smith (back) practiced today and looked crisp in drills.
Gholston Ready for Return
Linebacker Vernon Gholston, the Jets’ first-round pick (sixth overall) will return to Jets camp tomorrow. Gholston has been finishing up his semester at Ohio State University. Based on an agreement between the NFL and the NCAA, a player cannot participate in an NFL camp until that player’s academic term is complete.
Drops Serve a Problem
Dropped passes were an issue early in drills today, drawing the ire of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. In route running drills with no coverage, wide receiver Laveranues Coles dropped a pass from Chad Pennington and Schottenheimer responded by calling the team’s top receiver “rusty.” Later in the same drill, Coles again dropped a Pennington pass and wide receiver David Clowney mishandled a ball thrown by Kellen Clemens, which led Schottenheimer to scream, “What are you doing? Lets go.”
Rookie tight end Dustin Keller also had a tough day holding onto the ball and was moved to the third-string huddle. The demotion proved meaningless however, as Keller found himself working with the first-team on the next drill.
Quarterback Battle Continues
Clemens worked with the first-team offense today while Pennington spent the practice working with the second-unit. As far as the battle for the starting job goes, Mangini didn’t give any insight, telling reporters that “It’s still way too early” to judge the position.
The team has another session at 3:30 this afternoon. Be sure to check back for practice summaries and all of the latest news.
UPDATE: 3:30 PM: Mangini and Tannenbaum react to Baker's tirade.
As the New York Jets began their three-day OTA, the battle between tight end Chris Baker and Jets management continued to escalate toward levels reminiscent of the Pete Kendall situation of last offseason. Following a post-practice interview with reporters in which the unhappy tight end basically sent the message 'pay me or else', Jets head coach Eric Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum addressed the media. Team hierarchy continued to offer the same perspective on the situation.
“Chris is under contract and we expect him to be here this season; and as in the past, we expect him to play well and help us during the 2008 season," Tannenbaum said.
While Baker remains adamant that he received a promise from Jets’ management before last season to re-structure his contract which pays him $1.65 million annually, Tannenbaum stated that there lies a “difference of opinion” between the general manager and the embattled tight end.
“Based on my understanding of what Chris said this morning and the conversations I had with Chris’ agent last year [Cliff Brady], I was part of those conversations so I know what was said, and I think that Chris and I have a difference of opinion regarding those conversations," Tannenbaum said.
While the situation could eventually spiral down a road to where Baker is no longer a member of Gang Green, Mangini currently has no worries concerning the dispute.
7 PM LATE PRACTICE INSIDER TIDBITS
Coles Greets Jets Owner
Jets owner Woody Johnson watched the afternoon portion of practice today from the sidelines and was approached by wide receiver Laveranues Coles as the offense headed off the field following a passing drill. Coles greeted Johnson with a smile, patted the team’s owner on the back, and whispered something in Johnson’s ear. After netting a deal which guarantees the wide receiver the $11 million remaining on the final two years of his contract, Coles might have been passing along some kind words.
Baker Remains Alone
Baker had already voiced his displeasure over his current contract to reporters after the morning practice and he did not appear to be too thrilled as his team took part in afternoon drills. As the first-team offense stood on the sidelines, Baker knelt away from his teammates and had little interaction with them. Pennington approached the tight end during one instance, but Baker did not crack any smiles. Later, Johnson spoke with Baker, but Baker said very little in return.
Afternoon Features Aggression
For the first time this off-season, a minor scrum broke out at Jets practice. Members of the Jets’ third-team offensive line tussled after a running play. With a large huddle surrounding the players, it was difficult to tell who was involved, but offensive tackle Wayne Hunter was one player who was pulled away from the scrum. To add injury to insult, Hunter was having his shoulder examined by a team trainer later in the practice.
Miller Looks Sharp
The afternoon portion of practice featured special-teams work, and cornerback Justin Miller was back returning kickoffs. Miller was selected to the Pro-Bowl team in 2006 as a return specialist but missed all of last season rehabbing a torn ACL. He looked smooth when cutting in and out of the seams today.
While it’s still early in the off-season, one player who has caught the eye of Mangini is Clowney. “I like the progress that David Clowney has made. He’s a guy that has excellent deep-speed, he’s got a head for special teams production,” Mangini said. “I feel like he’s worked at the learning side quite a bit and it shows up.” The 6-foot, 188 pound wideout is entering his second season.
Offense Ends Afternoon with a Bang
The team ended the afternoon practice working on the two-minute drill. After Pennington was unsuccessful in leading the unit down the field, Clemens did just the opposite. With the ball on the 50-yard line, Clemens took the snap, dropped back under pressure, and hurried a screen pass to running back Musa Smith. With the help of solid blocking, Smith evaded defenders and found his way into the endzone.
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