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System and Culture Lions

Help Wanted:

The Arizona Cardinals are looking for talented football players who, position-wise, are nifty system fits, and who character-wise will help enhance the team culture through their exemplary work ethic, their competitive love for the game and their proclivity to put the needs of the team first.

In short—-the Arizona Cardinals are looking to assemble a pride of lions.

Yesterday, the Cardinals took a big step forward in signing their Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker to a 4 year $59M contract extension with $33.1M guaranteed.

Normally I am not a fan of re-signing players with a year remaining on their rookie contract, particularly seeing as the Cardinals have gotten burned doing that most recently with Tyrann Mathieu and David Johnson.

But, this time, extending Budda Baker feels different and especially encouraging.

System Fit:

If you read the article “Talking Cardinals With Kollmann,” Brett Kollmann said the following about Budda Baker as to why he is the perfect player at FS in Vance Joseph’s defense:

  • “Love him at FS (or “week safety—-however you want to call it”) because in that position where he can still play the run 10-15 yards from the box and the cutback lane is HIS at FS.”
  • “He’s the best safety in the NFL at meeting the RB in the cutback lane.”
  • “Plus, once Chandler Jones was finally moved to the WILL OLB, Jones had the luxury of knowing he could take an inside rush (and surrender contain) because Budda had him covered.”
  • “The way Vance Jospeh’s defense works, everything get funneled toward Budda Baker.”


Highlighted in this video:

  • Opposing coaches and OCs’ constant attention to Budda and their utmost respect for him.
  • Respect from opposing players.
  • Called “one of the best tackling safeties in the league.”
  • One of the best cover men at “ripping” the ball out of receivers’ hands.
  • Plus you get to see his first career interception (in the 2019 Pro Bowl versus Lamar Jackson).

Why The Safety Position is Now a Priority Position for NFL Teams:

I have been hearing some fans say that it’s better to give the big salaries to CBs and that it’s easier to find decent safeties who don’t command big contracts.

To be frank, while that may have been more the case a decade ago—-right now the safety position has become a team priority because of the way offenses have innovated in recent years to where so many teams key their offensive attacks on passing to the TEs, slot WRs and RBs. Moreover, look today at how many teams are calling RPOs and bubble screens.

Therefore, what all NFL teams are looking for are safeties who can break up passes over the middle and up the seams and be run-support lions who can “storm down the alley” to make swift, quick-twitch, tackles. That safety is Budda Baker in a nutshell.

One could make the argument that beside having an elite pass rusher, having a top shelf safety in the middle of the defense in today’s game is the next highest priority.

Think of it this way—-why is a safety called a “safety”? What a luxury it is for a defense to know that its surest tackler is their safety in the middle.

It is no odd coincidence that 10 safeties in the NFL in 2019 recorded more than 100 tackles. Budda Baker was #1 in all safeties with 147, which was also 4th in the league and 3 more than perennial All Pro LB Luke Keuchly.

In essence, the Cardinals’ two Pro Bowl players, DE Chandler Jones and S Budda Baker (pictured celebrating a big play above) are the pair of lions the Cardinals are building their defense around.

Culture Fit

Budda Baker’s three-year rise toward being named to the NFL’s Top 100 players list is a tribute not only to Budda’s work ethic, daily and weekly preparation and talent—-he did it in the most impressive way imaginable by first relishing his role on special teams. He was so dynamic on special teams that it landed him his first Pro Bowl selection.

Some high draft picks come in and from day one feel entitled to not have to play special teams. That it’s somehow beneath them.

Therefore, it says something very profound about the character of a high draft pick when he instead relishes whatever the team needs him to do by putting the needs of the team first.

If there is one player over the past three years who set the right tome and helped to improve the Cardinals’ special teams from being one of the worst in the NFL (#30 in 2016 and 2017) to #5 in 2018 (per Rick Gosselin’s ST rankings) and #13 in 2019.—-that player is Budda Baker.

Budda Baker helped change the special teams’ culture on the Cardinals in 2018—-and now he’s helping to chance the entire team culture.

Other younger players who are helping to change the culture in Arizona are:

The 3 Amigos: Christian Kirk, Trent Sherfield and Chase Edmonds. Larry Fitzgerald has been raving about their commitment and work ethic—-they are typically the first to practice and the last to leave and they are always pushing each other to improve. Plus, all three of them have worked hard and made strong efforts to bolster the special teams’ play.

Kyler Murray. His humble, focused and determined leadership is precisely what the Cardinals were looking for in a franchise QB. Kyler is the consummate galvanizer—-he unites his team.

In many ways, Kyler and Budda are alike. They have a passion and respect for the game. They are leaders by example. They show up and work hard every day. They are outstanding teammates who put the team first. They are soft-spoken and humble. And they don’t run off at the mouth.

These young Cardinals are lions in the making.

And that’s something we Cardinals’ fans can greet with new-found excitement—-and pride.