The Cardinals have a tough challenge facing them with regards to Budda Baker's future in Arizona.
Since the news of the star safety requesting a trade surfaced back in April, there has been a great deal of speculation regarding where he should end up and what his future might entail with the organization. While the Arizona Cardinals are in the middle of a rebuild year--as they always seem to be--Baker is one player that should not be dealt.
Budda, since being drafted in 2017, has been to five pro bowls in his six-year career. In 2022 he recorded 111 total tackles, 83 of which were solo. In coverage, Baker held his targets to under 300 yards on the season, and received a 73.7 PFF grade for his 2022 season, one of the highest grades on the team during one of the worst defensive years Arizona has had. His speed, ability to cover large portions of the field, and even create pressure on QBs make him a talent that is difficult to find elsewhere.
But it's not just the statistics and defensive presence the veteran brings to the table. Budda's leadership has been invaluable to the entire team from the start of his career. During a year with very few positives, low accountability from players and coaches and dry, monotone postgame press conferences, Hard Knocks offered us a look into who Budda is as a leader. His passion and fire for the game are what make him a franchise player, and Arizona should do everything in their power to keep that talent at the center of a young defense
The Cardinals are not strangers to this type of discontent from their players. Former GM Steve Keim's regime was littered with contract conflicts and former players do not shy away from speaking out on their perceived mistreatment from the organization. GM Monti Ossenfort made it clear on his hiring that the organization will not cater to players' demands, but there is a balance that must be found.
Budda was signed to a 4-year, $59 million extension in 2020, making him the highest-paid safety in the league at that time. Since then, he's fallen to the 7th highest-paid safety, and is looking for a new contract to put him at the top of the list once more. He has been well worth the money, consistently ranking among the NFL's top defenders and being named a captain just 3 years into his career. In an often injury-ridden roster, his durability has also been key, missing only five total games in his career while frequently playing through injuries so well that most are unaware of his injury status.
With a complete defensive redesign coming from HC Jonathan Gannon and DC Nick Rallis, Arizona has a chance to do the rebuild right. Young players like Jalen Thompson and Marco Wilson have plenty of untapped potential in the secondary, and with Isaiah Simmons transitioning to a DB role, the Cardinals have an opportunity to invest in the development of these players and boost this secondary up from the bottom 10 of the league. Players like Budda not only provide exceptional talent, but also leadership to glue this defensive unit together. You cannot rebuild a team without a player to build around, and Budda Baker is that player.
With an extremely young and thin secondary, the Cardinals need to keep the natural-born leader and spark-plug player presence in the locker room and on the field. Despite his trade request and desire for a new contract, Baker was present at minicamp--but not practicing.
Thankfully, Monti Ossenfort's new regime appears to have a good relationship with Budda. According to Wills Rice of ArizonaSports.com, Ossenfort noted that the communication between he and Budda's camp have been "great," and that he is "confident... that Baker will get a new contract and remain in Arizona."
Here's hoping Monti is a man of his word.