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Budda Baker Signs 4-Year Contract Extension With Cardinals

Veteran reportedly is highest-paid safety in NFL

Safety Budda Baker smiles during a break in Tuesday's practice, secure in the knowledge he had a new contract extension.
Safety Budda Baker smiles during a break in Tuesday's practice, secure in the knowledge he had a new contract extension.

The play wasn't particularly memorable for the Cardinals, when last season Pittsburgh's Diontae Johnson took a wide receiver screen, reversed all the way across the field and nearly scored a touchdown in gaining 14 yards last season, but Steve Keim remembered.

The General Manager loved how safety Budda Baker screamed across the field to finally make the tackle short of the goal line – a play that left such an impression Keim used it as a clip in his draft meetings as an example to scouts and front-office personnel.

"That was an emphasis on 'What does a Cardinal look like,' " Keim said. "To me, that's everything Budda Baker embodies. His passion, his love for the game, his speed, his explosiveness, and his desire."

The Cardinals certainly don't want to lose such players once they get them, either, so Baker signing a four-year contract extension through the 2024 season on Tuesday seemed all but inevitable.

The 2017 second-round pick had been scheduled to become a free agent after the season. The Cardinals, as their practice, did not announce financial terms, but multiple reports have Baker becoming the highest-paid safety in the NFL, and will get around $33 million in guarantees along with a $10 million signing bonus. His average salary per year jumps to $14.75M.

"I remember that (Steelers) play," Baker said. "To hear (Keim) say that is a blessing for me. I'm just focused on the things I can do to make this team even better each and every day. Those are my goals for as long as I am here."

"We have 100 percent faith Budda is going to earn this," Keim added.

Baker's Pro Bowl last year was his first as a safety – he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie for special teams. Baker, 24, led NFL defensive backs with 147 tackles with seven tackles for loss, six passes defensed and six quarterback hits.

Baker said linebacker Chandler Jones led a round of applause from teammates when Baker arrived in the locker room after news broke.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury called Baker "just a stud human overall," and the kind of player the Cardinals want in the organization.

"He's one of those guys with the unique ability to never stop moving his feet through contact," Kingsbury said during Tuesday’s Cards Camp Central. "He's fearless, and he's a great leader. Our entire defense feeds off his energy and the way he approaches the game."

Baker was one of a handful of contract situations the Cardinals have on their plate. Among the other Cardinals scheduled to be free agents after the season: cornerback Patrick Peterson, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, running back Kenyan Drake, defensive tackle Corey Peters, guard J.R. Sweezy, linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and kicker Zane Gonzalez.

The Cardinals also need to have Jones on their radar -- he is a free agent after the 2021 season -- and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is seeking an upgraded contract despite having three years left on his deal.

All of that is against a backdrop of next year's salary cap – and potential drop -- because of the coronavirus impact.

"I think that's why getting this extension done probably took so much time," Keim said. "Just because of the uncertainty for 2021. That's going to be something we're going to have to work through in the future, knowing we have to operate at a certain number.

"But Budda was at the top of our list. We had to get him extended."

Keim added there could be further contract moves but "we have to be creative and there are some things we are going to try and do moving forward."

Baker was named on the NFL Top 100 list for the first time this season, after a two-year stretch of establishing himself as one of the most physical safeties in the NFL (although Baker is still looking for his first career interception. He did notch one in the Pro Bowl.)

"This (contract) is a great thing for me, but then again, I'm thinking about the future and how great this team can be," Baker said.