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Getting charge from a switch

Baker lights up at joining Patriots

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / March 4, 2009
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The Patriots can only hope that newly signed tight end Chris Baker is as productive playing for them as he was playing against them.

Baker, who hooked on with the Patriots after being released by the rival New York Jets Feb. 20, has his most career catches (24) and receiving yards (185) against the Patriots, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"Actually, I didn't know that," said Baker. "I always got up a little bit more for that game, to be honest, because they were always the best team. Aside from the '02 year, they had won the division every year since I'd been in the league [until last season], so I always looked forward to playing them."

The 29-year-old Baker, who according to a league source signed a five-year, $14 million deal with a $1.5 million signing bonus, is the latest player to switch sides in the Border War, which might simmer down some now that Eric Mangini is coaching the Browns and not the Jets.

Baker downplayed going from one side of the rivalry to the other, but he didn't downplay his desire to be a Patriot. New England was the only visit Baker made.

"I was very impressed being up there," said Baker. "Obviously, I've seen the success that New England has had over the past few years, so it was kind of a quick process."

The 6-foot-3-inch, 258-pound Baker, a 2002 third-round pick of the Jets out of Michigan State, gives the Patriots another option at tight end, joining Benjamin Watson and David Thomas, both of whom are entering the final season of their contracts. In 98 games (51 starts), Baker has 145 receptions for 1,505 yards and 12 touchdowns.

However, he is coming off a disappointing 2008. He had 21 receptions for 194 yards and 0 TDs.

But the good news for the Patriots is that the Jets left him with plenty of motivation.

"Obviously, there is a history there, but the most important thing for me is to fit in, just doing the things that are going to help the team win," he said.

In 2007, Baker had career highs in receptions (41) and receiving yards (409). The Jets' response was to sign veteran Bubba Franks and use a first-round pick on tight end Dustin Keller (he of the crippling third-and-15 catch in the Patriots' overtime loss to New York last November). Things got worse when Baker got into a public spat with the Jets at minicamp, accusing them of reneging on a promise to renegotiate his contract following the '07 season.

After a contentious summer in which Baker was fined by the team for missing an injury treatment and requested a trade, the Jets inked him to a three-year, $12.2 million contract extension in September.

However, the Jets cut him before $9 million in guaranteed money would have been locked in over the next three seasons.

"I just tried to be as professional as possible," said Baker. "Obviously, it wasn't the easiest situation. The problem was really more between me and the front office. It wasn't with the guys that came in, the tight ends. We had a real good time and things like that.

"It was never that kind of situation. It obviously wasn't the easiest, but at the same time they were two good guys and we got along fine. It was the coaches. Once it was all hashed out, it worked out fine."

As for his role with the Patriots, Baker, who is capable as both a pass catcher and a blocker, said he's not concerned.

"Whatever role I'm able to carve out for myself," he said. "For me, the most important thing is winning. In New York, we had a few winning seasons and things like that, but the big thing for me is to just go out and do whatever is needed to get to where obviously everyone wants to go, which is the Super Bowl."

Patriots fullback Heath Evans, among the team's most high-profile remaining free agents, is scheduled to be in New Orleans today, continuing a visit that began yesterday . . . While one Heath was going out on a visit, another was coming in. A league source confirmed that Vikings linebacker/special teams ace Heath Farwell was in Foxborough yesterday. Farwell, 27, spent all of last season on injured reserve with a knee injury. He led the Vikings in special teams tackles in 2006 and 2007 and was the team's special teams MVP both seasons . . . Free agent safety Mike Adams is set to visit Gillette Stadium, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The paper said Adams was visiting the Packers yesterday and then was slated to head to New England.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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