Cardinals must be cognizant of Budda Baker’s disappointment over contract

Jul 24, 2023, 4:30 PM | Updated: 4:37 pm

Arizona Cardinals S Budda Baker...

Safety Budda Baker #3 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts to a fumble recovery against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. The Rams defeated the Cardinals 20-12. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Exceptions are made for the exceptional. For football players who put their face in the fan and still come to work smiling. For the few and the proud like Budda Baker.

Alas, the Cardinals aren’t buying it.

On the doorstep of training camp, the team has apparently rebuffed Baker’s request for more money and financial security, even though he is Arizona’s goodwill ambassador, one of its few remaining stars and easily their most beloved player.

The hardball approach seems short-sighted and wrong. After the abysmal NFLPA report card, it’s a missed opportunity for Michael Bidwill to turn public perception back in his favor. But to be fair, there is no real injustice to be found.

Baker has two years left on his contract – a four-year, $59 million deal that made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. Today, his salary ranks seventh and all the guaranteed money is gone. Yet nothing about the contract has changed since Baker’s willing signature.

His intentions are not wrong. Baker was one of the two breakout performers on “Hard Knocks” and his co-star has long since retired (J.J. Watt). Every other scene seemed to involve a position coach imploring a lifeless room to play as hard as Baker. One scene caught a desperate Baker moved to tears while literally begging his teammates to do more, to study more, to care more. His potential unhappiness begs a very damaging question:

If you won’t bend for a guy like this – a guy who gives his all for lost causes – who will you reward?

General manager Monti Ossenfort might rightfully argue that he did not draft Baker and would like to hold off negotiations for another season. But he, too, has raved about the significance of Baker to the incoming culture.

We also know the NFL seems to take pride in being a cold-hearted, callous business. And Baker clearly caught Bidwill at a bad time.

The Cardinals owner is presumably off the hook for former GM Steve Keim, who left the organization after driving it into the ditch. But Kliff Kingsbury is still getting paid, courtesy of Keim’s shell-game shenanigans. And after last year’s contentious contract battle with Kyler Murray’s agent, Eric Burkhardt, the last thing Bidwill would ever do is yield to a hyperactive, opportunistic agent. After Burkhardt, the next contestant was bound to lose.

My guess: Baker will likely hold in for a while to let his disappointment sink in with everybody. And then he’ll return and plug back into the machine. Because, from my vantage point, a true football warrior like Baker doesn’t play for the money. His credibility among hardcore types is off the charts, and he deeply values his bulldog reputation in the Valley and the NFL. Making it all about the money just isn’t his style.

But the apparent rejection will leave a mark. The Cardinals better be cognizant of Baker’s disappointment and find a way to pacify him. Because at the moment, it appears they are telling him he’s not exceptional after relentlessly raving about him in front of HBO cameras. Otherwise, they’d be making exceptions. That’s how the world works.

Bottom line: The Cardinals have lost a lot of games and many front-line players in the past two years. They don’t want to lose the lion’s heart of Budda Baker. Not here. Not now.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM.

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