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Budda Baker Is Turning Heads, Including His Own 

Third-year safety earning praise for standout play on the field

Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker during training camp practice on Thursday, August 13, 2020.
S Budda Baker earned leaguewide acclaim for his performance in 2019.

The Budda Baker appreciation tour has gone national, as a week rarely passes without praise directed at the Cardinals' third-year safety.

There were the numerous compliments from opposing players and coaches during the season, followed by a Pro Bowl berth in January and a top-100 nod in July.

When analysts began breaking down tape after the season, respect for Baker's non-stop motor and athletic ability only grew.

"Just go on Twitter," tight end Maxx Williams said. "Everything is about Budda."

Baker doesn't like to puff out his chest too much, but admits some of the plays he made last season forced a double-take upon review.

"When I'm watching film, in my head I'm like, 'Man, how did I do that?'" Baker said.

In just three seasons, Baker has settled in as a franchise cornerstone on defense alongside longtime stars like outside linebacker Chandler Jones and cornerback Patrick Peterson.

At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, Baker may always be among the smallest players on the team, but there is no question where he resides on the food chain.

"He's one of those lions when he's out on that field," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "He's not afraid of anybody."

The scariest thing about 2020 is COVID-19, especially for someone like Baker, whose mom, Michelle, has battled a host of medical issues throughout her life and has a weak respiratory system.

The first known cases of the virus in the United States came from the Pacific Northwest, where Michelle lives, and Baker acted decisively.

"This is a terrible situation," Baker said. "Right when it first hit, I sent my mom and my little sister out to Arizona. They were chilling with me for like three months. I like to live alone, but having them there was fun, and it was a great reason for them to be there at my house."

Even though his mom is part of the vulnerable population, Baker said he didn't consider opting out of the season – right tackle Marcus Gilbert was the only Cardinals player to do so – and is excited to build on his first three years in the league.

He is now eligible for a contract extension, with an age (24) and résumé that would seem to indicate a lucrative deal on the horizon. The lost revenue from 2020 could result in a lower salary cap next season, which could complicate matters, but Baker said he will leave the contract negotiations to his agent, David Mulugheta.

"I've kind of just let him do anything on the contract situation, and I've been focusing on football," Baker said. "Getting this new team here together and trying to be a lot better than we have been the last few years, my focus has been on that. If the contract stuff comes, it will come. My mind is on the season, and Week 1 versus San Fran."

Baker is in the final year of his rookie deal, which makes him a tremendous bargain in 2020. It seemed like there was a leaguewide reckoning about his value last season, although the success and plaudits did not change Baker's view of himself.

"I've been a confident player my whole life, really," Baker said. "I'm just not (into) showing it. I kind of like to just show it on the field."

Baker has done that in spades through the first three years, elevating himself to among the game's most elite defensive players.

"He might be the most humble guy on the field and in the locker room, but if you turn on the tape and watch Budda play, he's one of the best safeties in the league," Williams said.

Images from Thursday's training camp practice, presented by Hyundai.

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