Cardinals roster questions, wild cards: When does Budda Baker take the field?
Jul 24, 2023, 10:52 AM | Updated: 11:32 am
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
The Arizona Cardinals look a whole lot different than they did this time a year ago.
And with a reset in culture, coaching staff and front office comes a reset in the roster.
Each position group has undergone change this offseason, from quarterback to special teams.
After taking a look at the inside linebackers room, it’s time to turn the attention to Arizona’s batch of safeties.
The Arizona Cardinals’ big roster questions: S
1. How much do we see of Budda Baker during training camp?
Still without a new contract extension following his offseason request to be the highest paid safety in the league or be traded, Baker is expected to be in attendance for when the Cardinals report to training camp.
Just how much work he puts in is anyone’s guess, though it’s expected he’ll follow the same blueprint for mandatory minicamp when he was at the training facility but was not in attendance during the open portion of any of the practices.
Baker, who is the seventh-highest paid safety and still has two years on his current deal, has served as the biggest off-the-field distraction for the Cardinals in their first season with head coach Jonathan Gannon and general manager Monti Ossenfort at the helm.
The safety’s camp has since walked back the earlier reports of wanting to be paid the highest, with Baker’s agent asking for a fair deal in June before ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Saturday that he wants to be paid near the top of the market.
Baker has been one of the faces of the franchise ever since his arrival to the desert in 2017.
This past season, the Cardinals leader racked up 111 tackles, two interceptions, seven passes defensed and a forced fumble across 15 games played.
It’s clear Baker wants that new deal. And until he sees one — or gets dealt to a team that will hand him an extension — his presence on a practice field will be minimal if that.
2. How much are we going to see the trio of Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson and Isaiah Simmons on the field together?
The Simmons experiment continues on in Arizona.
While the Cardinals decided against picking up the linebacker-turned-star-backer-turned-defensive-back’s fifth-year option, they seem to have nailed down where exactly they see him playing in 2023.
Moving over to the safeties room, Simmons now rounds out a trio that already includes premier options in Baker and Thompson.
The switch up in position gives Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis more versatility to work with on that side of the football. They’re able to move Simmons really into any role they see fit given the offensive alignment, whether that’s staying out in coverage or moving up to make a play on the ball.
While no concrete answers have been given, Arizona is trending toward a 4-3 base package. But as we’ve seen from Gannon’s defenses in the past, he has no problem mixing things up, especially when it comes to getting his playmakers involved.
It’s not like Simmons is completely new to the position either, having played 76 snaps at safety and another 437 coming at cornerback, per Pro Football Focus.
The wild Card
Simmons is by the far the team’s biggest wild card at the position given his ability to flip a game on its head (see 2022 comeback win over Las Vegas Raiders in Week 2).
Since entering the league in 2020, Simmons has amassed 258 tackles, 13 for losses, 7.5 sacks, four interceptions, 16 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and 11 QB hits across 50 games played (37 starts).
He’s had no problem stuffing the stat sheet over the years. The real issue has been where to play him, something the previous regime could not figure out before it was shown the door this offseason.
Nailing down the best fit for Simmons could also help eliminate some of the inconsistencies seen in his game on a week-to-week basis.