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No Egos: Budda Baker Embracing Ease To 'Talk Freely'

Safety heads into final contract year controlling what he can

Cardinals safety Budda Baker (3) slaps hands with cornerback Michael Ojemudia (29) after a play during a recent OTA.
Cardinals safety Budda Baker (3) slaps hands with cornerback Michael Ojemudia (29) after a play during a recent OTA.

Going into his eighth season in the NFL, Budda Baker has earned the right to be the coach on the field that Jonathan Gannon said he has been for the Cardinals.

But perhaps more importantly for the Pro Bowl safety is the ability to both deliver – and accept – some constructive criticism.

"To not have certain guys with a certain ego to where you can't communicate a certain way is definitely something you have to watch," Baker said. "Nowadays, you can talk freely, guys give you the respect to talk to them and you have to give them the respect to talk to you as well. It's different."

Baker had plentiful smiles Monday, as the Cardinals began their final week of OTAs with next week's mandatory minicamp closing out the team's offseason work. He enjoys what he calls a near-college atmosphere around the team, and his role as mentor.

What Baker's future beyond this season looks like is an unknown for now as he goes into the last year of his contract. But Baker, thanks in part to tweaks in his current contract last offseason, has been around all spring for the Cardinals' voluntary work.

"I am an honest believer in controlling what I can control," Baker said. "Do my job and at the end of the day everything will take care of itself. That's my main goal this year, like every year. Play football at a high level, when the ball comes my way, get it out of the sky, when it isn't, run to the ball."

Baker acknowledged, like running back James Conner last week, that he would like to remain a Cardinal beyond this season. He is smart enough to know that he doesn't necessarily control the equation that would make that happen, and he pulled the veteran move to note that he lets his agent handle that end of his career.

It matters that he has survived two GMs and four head coaches, proving his talent is worth it.

"No matter who is coaching, I'm going to do my job and be that person that others can look on and ask questions of as well," Baker said. "Of course I want to be a Cardinal, but at the end of the day I understand it's a business."

The business of the Cardinals this season is to have Baker anchor a young defensive backs corps. Fellow vet Jalen Thompson is back there, but beyond that and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, there is relative inexperience with second-year players Garrett Williams, Kei'Trel Clark, Starling Thomas V and draftees Max Melton, Elijah Jones and Rabbit Taylor-Demerson.

"His perspective (on a play) with how we are all supposed to fit with five or six of us out there, 'This is what you need to be thinking to cover that the right way,' and 'I want to make sure you're thinking this,'" Gannon said. "It's good to have guys like that here and with them with a coaching perspective. I think it accelerates learning."

Baker said he is still learning himself, despite being so deep into his career. What he hopes this season teaches him is that the Cardinals can be in the playoff hunt.

"This year, I'm going to continue to work hard, continue to get to know my rooks, and play football at a high level, and most importantly, the name of the game is to win," Baker said. "We haven't really done that much.

"That's what I really want to do, I want to win and I want these fans to be happy and excited."