For Baas, the 2009 season got off on the wrong foot - literally. He suffered a foot injury early in training camp, during one of the team's "Nutcracker" drills, and consequently had to miss both camp and most of the preseason. While it's true that a lot of veterans would relish the opportunity to miss the grueling two-a-day workouts in the hot August sun, the layoff hurt Baas, who needed those reps he missed.
The 28-year old out of the University of Michigan clearly wasn't 100 percent entering the season and his rustiness was evident early on against the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks. Baas improved incrementally as the year went along and was voted by his fellow linemen as the team's Bobb McKittrick Award winner, which is given to the 49ers offensive lineman who best represents the courage, intensity and sacrifice of the team's legendary offensive line coach from 1979 to 1999.
While Baas may have earned the respect of his teammates, the 49ers' coaches and personnel people weren't as impressed. Even though Baas was drafted with the top pick of the second round, 33rd overall in 2005, the restricted free agent was only tendered at a third-round level, which is less than one would figure for someone with 38 starts in the league already under his belt.
Despite the low tender Baas and his agent didn't find many nibbles in the market, which really isn't too surprising if you think about it. If a guy like receiver Santonio Holmes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, can only fetch a fifth-round pick from the New York Jets in a trade, then no one was going to surrender a third rounder for a guard like Baas who struggled some in 2009.
To his credit, Baas is working hard to make a good first impression for 2010. He signed an injury waiver so he could participate in the team's off-season workouts at their Santa Clara complex, even though didn't have a contract at the time. Finally, nine days before the draft, he decided enough was enough and signed his name to the one-year contract the 49ers offered.
"There are a lot of people out there that don't believe in our offensive line, but I do," Baas said. "I think with (new offensive line coach Mike) Solari and (assistant) Ray Brown, it's a new attitude. It's different and I think it's good. We're just going to keep getting more aggressive and keep working on our technique. We have something to prove. I've got something to prove. A lot of the heat fell on us last year, and we have to step up and be accountable."
Baas knows that a starting job won't be handed to him next year. He'll have to fight for it. The 49ers have courted free agent Chester Pitts and may very well choose a guard with one of their nine picks in the draft. At least by signing his deal Baas knows he'll have the chance to prove his critics wrong and increase his value for that next contract.