It had been a tumultuous offseason for Budda Baker, with the safety coming off a fractured shoulder and seeking a new contract.
He never missed any of the mandatory work, however, as the safety quickly returned to the team leader the Cardinals had embraced and who new coach Jonathan Gannon expected.
The season has been a strange one, however. Baker – who missed five games with a bad hamstring injury – hasn't produced any notable stats other than his always lofty tackle totals. Yet there the NFC Pro Bowl starters were announced on Wednesday evening, and Baker again was chosen for the fifth straight year.
He was the only Cardinals to earn Pro Bowl honors.
"I feel like I have played really good football personally, doing my job," Baker said last week. "I know the splash plays aren't going around or the crazy interceptions, but at the end of the day this is business and each and every guy has to do their job at a high level. I am going to try and continue to do that."
On the season, Baker has been credited with 77 tackles, and five of them are for loss. But he does not have a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery or a pass defensed.
There are many things that go into that equation, and even Baker remains aware of what offenses are trying – or not trying – on him.
"My coach has given me various jobs (in the defense) to help get the football to come around," Baker said. "Because it's really the first time in my career … my whole career I don't really see the football but this year it's like it's kind of frustrating sometimes because it is going away, going away (from me)."
Baker's Pro Bowl inclusion speaks to the respect the veteran has within the league. Baker did not finish in the top 10 from fans voting – but the two-thirds of the vote coming from coaches and players from other teams put him on the roster.
Tight end Trey McBride – who finished 10th among tight ends – was the only Cardinal to be in the top 10 in any fan voting category.
Baker is also one of eight finalists for the NFL's Art Rooney Sportsmanship award.
Baker adds much more to the team than statistics, which sounds cliché but is meaningful with the six-time Pro Bowler (he made it as a rookie as a special teamer.) Coach Jonathan Gannon was asked to give the biggest reason he likes Baker. Gannon couldn't.
"As a player, his versatility, reliability, toughness, effort, and brain," Gannon said. "I just gave you about five. As a leader, I think his attitude -- the guy comes to work, he never has a bad day. He comes to work always wanting to improve and get better.
"I would say the sign of a really good player is that he elevates others around him since he has been here and since we've been here. That's what he's done, and not just the safeties or the back end, I'm talking about the linebackers and the D-line and the coaches, so that's a valuable piece to have."
The four-time captain has taken on an even bigger role this season with the rookies playing on defense – he acknowledged he has had to get used to so much inexperience – and especially at cornerback, where at least one first-year player has played significant snaps every game.
"I'm understanding that as long as I am doing my job at a high level, as long as I am continuing to help players, help guys understand different route concepts to help them play better," Baker said, "that is my main goal."