Budda Baker made history with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday when he became the NFL’s highest-paid safety. The fourth-year defensive back signed a four-year, $59 million contract extension, NFL media reported.
Baker will receive $14.75 million per year, which surpassed the previous record by the Chicago Bears’ Eddie Jackson, who signed a $58.4 million extension in January. Baker, who was selected as the Cardinals’ second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, earned a Pro Bowl nod his rookie season and again last season. He’s recorded 323 total tackles with 18 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 14 passes defended, four forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries.
His move from strong safety to free safety this past year showed his versatility and ability to play the entire field. It should be no coincidence that Baker’s deal is on the heels on another season-ending injury to cornerback Robert Alford. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph were right to shore up one of their best secondary players in a contract year, but will it be worth it?
The Cardinals’ defense was not good last season, to put it plainly. Arizona was without Alford for the entire season and cornerback Patrick Peterson for six games and struggled mightily. The team was last in yards allowed per game (402), had the second-most touchdown receptions against (38), and gave up the second-most passing yards per game (282).
Baker, however, had a good season all things considered. He led the NFL with 104 solo tackles and his 147 total tackles led all safeties. The most interesting note here is that Baker has yet to record an interception. The Cardinals also struggled in this category, recording a league-low seven interceptions last season.
Arizona can justify its deal if Baker can make a bigger impact in its passing defense, specifically via takeaways. In 2019, Baker allowed a 125.3 quarterback rating when targeted, which is a slight uptick from 2018. He has been a disruptor in the backfield even if he doesn’t have the numbers to show it. He isn’t the biggest athlete—he measures at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds—but he can be nearly anywhere the Cardinals need him to be and that versatility is coveted; Arizona recently drafted the Swiss Army knife that is Isaiah Simmons to play wherever they need him as well.
Baker’s new deal also gives the Los Angeles Rams’ John Johnson and the Seattle Seahawks’ Jamal Adams a number to surpass. Johnson will be a free agent after the 2020 season, and Adams will be under contract until the 2021 season and will surely be looking for top dollar when it comes time to negotiate in Seattle.
The Cardinals giving Baker this big of a number should instill a sense of confidence that will only help their defense. It also gives Arizona some continuity in a unit that sorely needs it as it faces another season without its planned cast.
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