Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Panthers fire Jason Baker -- was it a year too late?

Jason Baker was a fine punter and holder for the Carolina Panthers, but he was replaceable.
The Panthers came to that decision Wednesday when they released Baker, who had punted for the team since 2005 and generally done a good job doing so (although last year his leg didn't seem as strong and he was also hampered by some occasionally awful special-teams coverage, so his net average was quite low for him). When Baker did get one blocked, which would happen every now and then, it was usually a blocking miscue.

But Baker, unlike a fair number of NFL punters, wasn't a good enough kickoff specialist to do both jobs (although he was an excellent holder). That was part of the reason why the Panthers released John Kasay shortly before the 2011 season began and signed Olindo Mare to a four-year, $12-million contract. Mare was supposed to save them a roster spot by both kicking off and kicking field goals.

Mare was great on kickoffs, all right -- he was second in the NFL in 2011 with 53 touchbacks. But he was too often disappointing in the key part of his job. He missed two critical fourth-quarter field goals from relatively short range last season. Kasay, meanwhile, landed on his feet in New Orleans for a one-year gig when the Saints' regular kicker got hurt.

The Panthers even went so far as to bring in another kicker toward the end of last season, although Mare never lost his job (and I imagine he will kick for Carolina again in 2012 even though they recently signed a different kicker, Justin Medlock, to compete with Mare in training camp. Medlock has been kicking well in the CFL).

My point is, though, that Baker could have been released before last season. Kasay -- who was and is good friends with Baker -- could have been kept. And another guy who both punted and kicked off could have been hired, and fairly cheaply, too.

Of course, hindsight is 20-20, and the Panthers thought with Mare they were getting a fantastic 2-for-1 special.

In reality, though, they made a questionable decision to keep Baker instead of Kasay when they decided they were going to go from three kickers down to two (Rhys Lloyd had handled kickoffs before that) and that hasn't worked out that well.

And now they have let Baker, 33, go for salary-cap reasons.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any ideas how he will get replaced?

Rich said...

What was even more surprising about the Panthers letting Kasay go was the new rule moving the kickoff line up 5 yards. That would have enabled him to reach the end zone on kickoffs and should have bought him a few more years on the team and in the league, I would have thought.

Anonymous said...

Scott,

Baker was one of the worst punters in the NFL last year in terms of total yardage. His distance and hang time have declined year over year since he got here. He no longer has the leg, even though he punted only 66 times last season (compared with 95 in 2010), so he should have been fresher and stronger.

It has nothing to do with kickoffs and everything to do with field position on punts. Once again, you write a column based on what you BELIEVE to be the case, rather than what IS the case.

Greg said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't Baker asked to do Kick off duties while Kasay was here but he refused because he said it would interfere with his mechanics for punting? #notateamplayer

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

You clearly don't have any idea what the special teams coach was calling on punt plays.

What IS the case is that Baker's current ability exceeds what you saw on the field last year. Spot positioning on punts is a very common practice with a coverage team that doesn't/can't do their jobs. Kicking it further down the field doesn't help the coverage team.

Ignorance must be bliss, huh?

Anonymous said...

Woooooooohoooooo!!!!!!!! Baker sucked!

Kenneth said...

I just hope we don't become one of those teams who's looking for a good punter or kicker every year all year. Also, Wharton has clearly been a more reliable starter than Jordan Gross the last 3 or 4 years. Why didn't they cut the severely overrated Gross instead?

Rebels Hate Me said...

Nothing like being kicked to the curb.
Thanks for the punts, Jason

We're cutting the Butcher and the Candlestick Maker next.

Anonymous said...

Baker did some kicking off before he received the big (for a punter) contract. After that contract was signed, his kickoffs started going out of bounds way too often. I've always suspected that he did that on purpose, knowing he couln't be cut because of the hit on the salary cap.
Kasay was the team's player rep. Maybe got cut because he gave the union inside info on Jerry.

Anonymous said...

Pick up Matt Dodge.

Anonymous said...

Mare shoulda been the one let go, and Kasey shoulda NEVER been let go

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
Anonymous,

You clearly don't have any idea what the special teams coach was calling on punt plays.

What IS the case is that Baker's current ability exceeds what you saw on the field last year. Spot positioning on punts is a very common practice with a coverage team that doesn't/can't do their jobs. Kicking it further down the field doesn't help the coverage team.

Ignorance must be bliss, huh?"

You would know right? I guess it's good field position when you punt it to the 30 right? Please. Get a clue. A good punt gets in inside the 20, everytime, and it's the special teams' job to field the punt. If they can't get get 40 yards downfield before the punter catches that ball, they don't deserve to be on the team. Jason Baker has no leg. End of discussion. If you think keeping him instead of Kasay made sense then you are beyond homeric for Baker. The fact of the matter is John Kasay was our highest scorer in 2010 and in 2011 he was in the top 5 for kickers and he beat us with a field goal. John Kasay beat us with his leg. Also, his longest field goal last season was longer than Mare's. Get a clue.

MAB said...

Tons of young punters available coming out of college, in the CFL...if you let a punter go due to salary cap, he wasn't worth it anyway....

Anonymous said...

Come y'all enough with the Kasay love....the only reason he did decent last year was because of the offense he played on....there are much better kickers out there....kasay is no savior and it was time for him to go....

Anonymous said...

For all his faults, I'll never forget Jason Baker's awesome TD saving tackle on Leon Washington against Seattle in 2010. That was probably my favorite highlight that came out of that dreadful season. I love it when kicker/punters refuse to give up on a play.

J said...

Rich - no, the move to kicking off from the 35 did nothing for Kasay. The New Orleans punter still did all the kicking off.

Yes, the release of Baker is one year too late. Baker hasn't been very good for several years. Punters who can kick off are a dime a dozen. I found it fascinating that our (mis)management, known the world over for being far too loyal to veterans and hanging on to them well after they should have been put out to pasture, chose a 6-year, incredibly average punter over a still-reliable 20-year kicker.

Anonymous said...

Mare sucks

Harry said...

Jason Baker the touchback maker...

Meghann said...

You guys have NO idea what you're talking about - the special teams coach was the problem - Baker was an amazing element of the Panthers team and I think Charlotte is loosing a great person an team player!

Anonymous said...

Loosen up Meghann

Anonymous said...

20 posts by the same idiot.

Anonymous said...

The title of this article could have been "Another Hurney Mistake" and the context of it can be summarized by saying "Marty F's up again."

I'll give Fowler credit, he comes the closest to actually calling it like it is when it comes to the Panthers and not sucking up to Marty as Joe Person goes out of his way to do. But he still won't say the name "Hurney" when criticizing all of Hurney's bonehead moves.

There must be some type of unwritten rule or code among journalists that you don't criticize one of your own.

Anonymous said...

Panthers should try to get Matt Dodge. He's a Carolina guy with a huge leg. Struggled some his rookie year with the NY Giants, but he really looked a lot better in last year's preseason before they cut him and went with Weatherford. Truth is, the Panthers could get this big leg punter for a bargin compared to Baker's pay and he could punt for them for 8-10 years. He grew up a Panther's fan too. I know him personally and he's one of the best teammates and gentlemen you'll ever meet. Certainly no need to waste a late round draft pick on an unprooven college punter. Go get MD!

Anonymous said...

ha, i'm seeing a lot of the same type of comments about how bad the kicks sucked as when we let kasey go. look how well that worked out.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh, the power of print. A Sports Opinion column is just that. Scott, you truly have mastered the opinion part, but it is unfortunate for those who read this and take your opinions for truth. Factual information is what makes a column worth reading. As some have pointed out, those who paid attention the last couple of years would have recognized that the coaching of the special teams had changed. A punters job is to get the ball down the field to change the field position and put their team in an advantage with that control. IF the team has poor coverage or is poorly coached, it doesn't matter what the punter does in regards to field position. To cover this up, this years change in special teams coaching tried to be creative in disguising his inadequacies as a coach by trying to get Baker to do impossible things. I've never seen Baker have trouble with big name returners until this year...Hester. I highly doubt it was Baker's idea to punt a rugby ball to the middle of the field to him. Granted, it was more of a line drive, but he had to have been told to rugby the ball in the first place. Also, the stats show Baker had the most punts from inside of the +40 yd line than any other team. He evan punted one from the +31, and of all 66 punts not one landed in the endzone...NOT one, also 60% of the return yds came from 4 returns. I believe whoever repaces Baker won't make a difference. Although, I they hired a special teams assistant coach, Richard Rogers. So now Coach Murphy will have someone to show him how things should be done, and Murphy will take the credit.

Anonymous said...

Mare need to go!

Anonymous said...

Jason, you were a great punter/player dude. We're going to miss you. You're a high-class guy and we hope another team will see what we all see in you: competent class.