I started my days in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher - the same way most hopeful cooks and chefs do. And, as most dishwashers do at some point, I felt on many nights I was the hardest working employee in the building. Dishwashers have their hands in a soup of half-eaten food all night, fetch new beer kegs for the bartender, prep food for the cooks in their spare time, and stay later than just about everybody while they clean up the mess left behind by kitchen service.
It is universally known in the industry that dishwashers do much of the heavy lifting required to put on a successful dinner performance, which is why it's commonplace for cooks and service to throw some cash their way as they check out for the night. The reason they feel obliged to do that? Because the other universal truth is that no matter how hard dishwashers work, no matter how crucial they are to the morale of the staff, they will never not be the lowest-paid employees. That's just how it goes.
There's a good reason, too. Cooks are responsible for the product that gets the customer through the doors, and keeps them coming back for more. Servers are responsible for the experience - something that's been proven to enhance the taste of food, and a crucial part of what makes customers willing to spend their expendable income at your establishment. Managers are on call 24/7, and deal with any customer complaints. Dishwashers may do everything else, but they add almost no value to the customer experience. That's why they're the lowest-paid employees.
When I saw the Budda Baker news - that he's now the highest paid safety in the NFL - disappointment struck as I thought to myself, "Steve Keim just made his dishwasher the second-highest-paid player on the Cardinals."
Don't get me wrong, Budda Baker is an All-Pro. He's one of the best players on this team. But, his skillset is not one of the most valuable on this team. Baker has zero interceptions in three NFL seasons. Zero. He got burned by George Kittle when he was assigned to go one-on-one with him. His best qualities are his tackling and utility. Those things are great, but in an increasingly quarterback-driven NFL, I'm interested in paying players that intercept, or sack, the quarterback.
I'm not totally anti-safety, either. Kevin Byard - the third-highest paid safety in football - averages 4.3 interceptions per season. In the last three years, Byard's grabbed 8, 4 and 5 picks. That's a guy I can stomach paying $14 million to.
As for tackling machines? There's a reason the era of Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis is long gone.
The truth is the elevation of the quarterback position has changed everything about the NFL. Kliff Kingsbury - with a 35-40 record at Texas Tech - can be fired in college and land an NFL head coaching gig. Why? He's good with quarterbacks. Running backs are now a similar investment to buying a boat. Defensive players are valued almost exclusively by how effectively they can disrupt the passing game.
Almost exclusively. Steve Keim just challenged that orthodoxy.
I predict it will not be a catastrophe, but Baker's true value will never fulfill the numbers on his paycheck. It's not that he doesn't deserve it. He does. It's that he's not worth it.