Throughout Steve Keim’s 10 year tenure as the Cardinals’ GM, by far the best trade he ever made during a draft weekend was trading up for University of Washington 2016 consensus All-American safety Budda Baker in round 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Since inking two contracts with the Arizona Cardinals that thus far have spanned six seasons, Budda Baker has been the most consistently outstanding player and consummate professional in the organization.
When Budda was a rookie, the club wanted him to shine on special teams. Not only did Budda shine like a meteor as he was chasing down return men, he was so brilliant that, as a mere rookie, he was named the NFC’s special teams player. Best of all, the cherry on top for the young Cardinal was being selected to the NFL 1st-team as the league’s best special teamer..
Not too many 2nd round draft picks are eager and hungry to cut their NFL teeth on special teams. It take a “special” kind of modesty, courage and grit to not only play on a host of special teams, but then, to excel at it.
Since becoming a full-time starter at safety during the second half of his rookie season, Budda Balker has made the Pro Bowl in 5 of his 6 seasons.
Budda Baker earned 1st-Team All-Pro at safety in 2020 and 2nd-Team All Pro in 2021.
Last year Budda was ranked #19 on the NFL Top 100 Players List after being ranked #97 in 2020. When you watch this short video. listen in particular to what the 49ers’ Pro Bowl TE George Kittle and Pro Bowl FB Kyle Juszczyk have to say about Budda Baker.
#19 Budda Baker (S, Cardinals) | Top 100 Players in 2021
During the Cardinals’ worst season imaginable this past season, Budda was the only Cardinal to make the Pro Bowl. This was a stunning achievement given the facts that the Cardinals were out of the playoff hunt by Thanksgiving and that, like Patrick Mahomes did in leading the Chiefs to this year’s Super Bowl victory, Budda played through a painful high ankle sprain that typically sidelines players for 4-6 weeks.
His dedication to the team, as clearly manifested on HBO’s Hard Knocks In-Season: Arizona Cardinals was above and beyond what any coach, teammate or fan could hope for —- not only as an alpha dawg on the field, but as an impassioned leader in the locker room. Who will ever forget this “I’m Tired of Losing at Home — It Hurts My Heart” post-game speech?
In life: Be a Budda Baker— Joanna Cards Fan (@cardsfanjoanna) November 9, 2022
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Budda Baker has always been, as poet Emily Dickinson would say, “As punctual as a Star.” Back when a number of his teammates were skipping OTAs, Budda showed up, saying the he wanted to be there for his teammates and was eager to help the younger players grow. He said there is a responsibility that comes with being a team captain and he wanted to honor his badge with the “C”.
On Hard Knocks we were treated to a number of impassioned speeches. When it came to addressing the team, in my opinion, the two players who shined in that role the most were Budda Baker and JJ Watt.
And while JJ Watt put forth an epic display of courage, determination and perseverance in finishing out his 1st ballot Hall of Fame worthy career —— Budda Baker, over the past six seasons, has become is the “face” of the Arizona Cardinals.
Budda’s Plaint is Territorial
Budda Baker asked the Cardinals to rip up his current contract (4 years at $59M), which is now void of guaranteed money and make him, for the second time in three years, the highest paid safety in the NFL.
And now that it appears the Cardinals were unwilling to accommodate Budda’s contract request, he has asked to be traded.
In my opinion, I do not believe that the true spirit of Budda’s contract request is about the money. It is about being paid for what he has become and what he now is —- the true face of the Cardinals’ franchise.
Budda has been working arduously to try to help change the team culture. No player on the current roster understands the physical sacrifices and mental discipline it takes to be a star performer and outstanding teammate.
If anyone on the team knows what it is going to continue to take for the Cardinals to get the culture right, that’s Budda Baker.
Thus, if the Cardinals genuinely want Budda to keep leading the much necessary culture change, the Cardinals need to make a full, long-term commitment to him so that everyone in the organization knows and understands who the Top Dawg is.
Top Dawg is the territory that Budda Baker, by his actions and his tenacious investment in the team, has earned and claimed.
Where Budda Stands Alone
The irony is that of all the gift early extensions Bidwill/Keim gave to T. Mathieu, D. Johnson, J. Thompson (thus far) and K. Murray (thus far) Budda Baker was only one to ball harder and better once he got his bag. Among this crowd, he stands alone. That's part of the problem.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) April 15, 2023
Think of how significant a breakthrough this is for the Cardinals. If the Cardinals are ever going to get their star players to live up to their contracts, there needs to be a “gold standard” role model on the premises.
Imagine what a boon it would be if the Cardinals started getting consistently inspired performances from their highest paid players.
Budda Baker is one of the rare Cardinals who has checked that box. The dude only knows one way to play.
In return for Budda Baker giving everything he has to the team on and off the football field, the Cardinals need to give Budda Baker everything they have in order to keep the organization’s eyes on golden standards.
JJ Watt has now retired —- and when he dons the “Golden Jacket” he will be heading into Canton as a Houston Texan.
Budda Baker is on a career path that is pointed toward an induction into the Cardinals Ring of Honor and with a few more stellar seasons, Budda is headed towards a possible trip to Canton as one of the most dynamic players and brilliant defensive stars of his generation.
The mere thought of the Cardinals trading Budda Baker is “hurting my heart.”
How about yours?