The Jets' full-squad minicamp got under way today, and No. 86 was on the field.
Tight end Chris Baker, who had stayed away from all the voluntary off-season work because he's unhappy with his contract situation, participated in the morning practice of the mandatory camp, then after practice voiced his displeasure to a large group of reporters.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Eric Mangini followed with news conferences in the afternoon at which they were asked questions about Baker and pointed to the good things the Jets have done this off-season while expressing the desire that Baker be part of them.
"I think Chris can do a lot of good things for us. I thought he had a good year last year," Tannenbaum said. "We expect Chris to be here and we expect him to help us this year as he has in the past. I'm glad he's on our team. That's why, when he went to free agency and visited three other teams, I was glad we were able to sign him to a four-year contract."
Baker contended he was told before last season that his contract would be "revisited" by the Jets but that after a 2007 season in which he recorded career highs with 41 receptions and 409 yards, "nothing at all" has happened.
"They know what I can do by now. It's not like I just got here. I've been here for seven years," Baker said. "It was promised to me and that hasn't happened, so what else am I going to do?
"I'm not happy with how everything is going."
Tannenbaum was asked about any promises he might have made about Baker's contract with his former agent, Cliff Brady.
"Based on my understanding of what Chris said this morning and conversations I had last year with Cliff Brady, I was a part of those conversations and I know what was said, so I think Chris and I have a difference of opinion about those conversations."
Baker subsequently switched agents to Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod, who both also represented guard Pete Kendall during his contract dispute last season that resulted in his being traded to Washington in August.
The tight end was asked if he saw a similar story arc for himself. Specifically, he said, "I'm not quitting, I'll tell you that much." But as to whether he'll attend training camp, he said, "I'll address that when the time comes," and about whether he sees himself playing for the Jets in the coming season, "If things stay the way they are, then no, I don't see how that's possible."
Referring to his and his agents' contention that once first-rounder Dustin Keller signs, he would be the Jets' third-highest-paid tight end, Baker said to reporters: "I have a question for you. Imagine Coach Mangini was the third-highest-paid coach on the staff. Do you think he'd be happy about that?"
Tannenbaum declined to go into contract specifics but said who is paid what at any position on any team is often open to interpretation.
"The complexities of the salary cap make all of these judgments very subjective," the GM said. "I'm not saying we're right and he's wrong or he's right and we're wrong. It's just that the salary cap is very complicated and subjective."
This situation, and Baker's switch of agents, has led some, including Baker today, to say the Jets have reneged on several promises to renegotiate contracts recently. Tannenbaum disagreed.
"I've been fortunate enough to do this since 1997," said Tannenbaum, going back to his days as the team's assistant general manager under Bill Parcells. "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.
"Obviously these issues come up league-wide, be it Brian Urlacher of Jeff Garcia right now. You always try to deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis. But as far as the team and our reputation, I think it speaks for itself over a long period of time with a number of players and a number of agents."
Mangini was asked several questions about Baker and said he spoke briefly with his tight end Wednesday night. He said he's "not concerned at all" about the effects of this situation on the Jets.
"I think what we've done this off-season has been really exciting," the head coach said, mentioning the gains the Jets have made in free agency, the draft, in the hiring of new coaches and the upcoming move to the team's new training facility.
"A lot of good things are going on," he said. "That's what I'm focused on and really what the group is focused on: the momentum we've built up during OTAs, finishing strong this minicamp, finishing the off-season program and moving to training camp."
Baker said he wants to be in that camp but cast doubt on whether he would be.
"I want to be a member of the Jets. I've been here all my life. I'm from here," said the Queens native. "I've been here my whole career. I want to be here. But at the same time, if this is just swept under the rug like it's been done, then I do not want to be here. It's really in their court."
Tannenbaum declined to discuss whether there was anything the sides could do contractually to avoid taking this impasse into training camp, saying Baker is "under contract for this year and I'll just leave it at that." But he also said he has spoken often to Schwartz and Feinsod about a number of their clients who are or have been Jets.
"Obviously, our guys are certainly entitled to their own opinions," Tannenbaum said. "The best thing that we can do, Eric and I, is talk to the players, talk to the agents. With Chris's situation, we'll continue to have dialog, I'm sure, pretty regularly."