Arizona Cardinals fans were ecstatic last summer when one of the team's most popular players was appeased by management. Budda Baker was asking for more money, and had expressed a desire to be traded if he couldn't get it. A compromise agreement was ultimately reached with the star safety, and the Cards had the heart and soul of the defense back in place.
Unfortunately, Baker has turned in a less-than-stellar performance for the Cardinals thus far in 2023. The 5 foot 10,195 pounder is still effective against the run, but his contributions as a pass defender have been nonexistent. Baker has been considered one of the league's best dual-purpose safeties for quite some time, but that no longer appears to be the case.
In his eight starts this fall for Arizona, Baker has yet to record an interception. While that may be forgivable, the fact that the seventh-year pro has not broken up a single pass is somewhat alarming. Has that essential part of Baker's game gone by the wayside?
Last season, Baker was credited with two interceptions and seven passes defensed for the Redbirds defensive unit. The former second-round draft choice has seven picks on his professional resume, and had registered at least six pass breakups in five out of his six NFL campaigns until this year.
It stands to reason that the Arizona Cardinals could be disappointed by the star safety's play this season
The reasons for why Baker has morphed into a one-trick pony is anybody's guess. With 58 tackles this fall, the veteran has proven that he can still lay the wood. That's all well and good, but it's logical to think that the Redbirds coaching staff was banking on a whole lot more out of the 5 foot 10,195 pound Baker.
Thanks to Baker's mediocre play as of late, the "other" starting safety in the Arizona secondary appears to have replaced his mentor as the leader of the defensive unit. In 11 starts this year, Jalen Thompson has racked up 62 tackles, a sack, three picks and five pass breakups for "Big Red". Since he joined the team back in 2019, the former supplemental draft selection has amassed 369 tackles, eight interceptions and 24 passes defensed for the Cards.
The reputation that Baker has built as an all-around defender is now in question. Does the front office really want to fork over $14.2 million to a 27-year-old who's overall production has diminished this season? At this point, it may not be outlandish to believe that the Cardinals organization could move on from the well-liked Baker in 2024.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference; Salary information provided by Spotrac.com)