The Arizona Cardinals have been betting on young talent, and it’s more or less worked for the 5-2 team that is now second in the competitive NFC West.
When Arizona jumpstarted its offense by selecting quarterback Kyler Murray with the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and adding head coach Kliff Kingsbury, it saw a fairly immediate return. Despite the team’s lowly 5-10-1 record last season, Murray won NFL Offensive Player of the Year and could ascend further up the ranks with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in tow.
The Cardinals were far from complete though, and if they were going to be competitive against top NFC teams and divisional foes like the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks, their defense needed the same care. Arizona added Swiss Army knife linebacker Isaiah Simmons with its eighth overall pick in the 2020 draft and then the team did something else. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, looming financial concerns, and key franchise players entering contract years, the Cardinals gave fourth-year safety Budda Baker a record-setting contract extension.
Baker, who transitioned nicely under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, reset the market with his four-year, $59 million extension. Baker had changed positions in each of his three prior seasons, playing under three different schemes. In 2019, he moved back to free safety and led the league with 104 solo tackles. With his new deal, the Cardinals were again betting on young, ascending talent.
This has worked out extremely well.
Baker is finally getting the turnover luck that evaded him at the start of his career; through 46 career games, Baker had 301 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and 14 passes defensed. He didn’t have a single interception, but that didn’t necessarily matter to general manager Steve Keim. He saw the value of having an uber-versatile, uber-mobile defensive back that was close to the same tier as his predecessor, Tyrann Mathieu.
Baker is everywhere, and he showed that once again versus the Seahawks on Sunday night. In fact, in back-to-back primetime games, on one the biggest stages afforded to players, Baker was no longer the budding young star the Cardinals were hoping would breakout. He showed what many already recognized, including Arizona, which traded up to select him out of the 2017 class: His non-stop motor was not only worth the lucrative new deal, but it would help ascend a previously struggling defense.
"I've been a confident player my whole life, really," Baker said in August. "I'm just not (into) showing it. I kind of like to just show it on the field."
Baker currently leads the NFL in solo tackles (48) and is cementing himself as a cornerstone, much in the same way outside linebacker Chandler Jones and cornerback Patrick Peterson have.
Baker’s breakout game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6 wasn’t just turnover odds finally falling in his favor. It was a culmination of the consistent effort, because he showed up again this week and with games against the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills next before returning to divisional play (against the Seahawks) and facing the New England Patriots, he’ll likely keep showing up again, and again, and again.
“He is everywhere,” Kingsbury said after the Week 6 win. “You watch the game, and '32' shows up in every situation, all night. Such a tremendous player.”
- Dec 01, 2022
- Nov 30, 2022