The Arizona Cardinals started Tuesday morning with a bang announcing a massive new contract extension for safety Budda Baker.
Baker at age 24 and having completed his third NFL season now becomes the highest paid safety in NFL history. And somehow did it without recording a single career interception.
The immediate question after the news broke was: Is this a good deal for the Cardinals?
Obviously its an amazing deal for Budda Baker but is it a deal that the Cardinals should have made?
On one hand, they could have had Baker play out his rookie contract this season before using the franchise tag on him in 2021, a la the Broncos decision with Justin Simmons. Taking that path would've allowed the franchise to get two extra years of work on Baker's resume before signing him to a lucrative extension in 2022, when Baker would still be just 26 years of age.
With a rookie QB contract on the books, the Cardinals need to be incredibly deliberate in how they spend big dollars.
But this deal still makes sense to me.
Immediately, everyone latched on to the fact this is the richest contract in safety history. That sounds impressive and its a feather in his agent's hat but it's also the most misleading title in football. After years and years of market depression due to the salary cap and existence of the franchise tag combined with still climbing league wide revenues, players are still seeing salaries skyrocket at most positions. By next year, Baker will likely be the third or fourth highest paid safety in football and by the end of this deal its almost certain he'll be out of the top 5.
The safety position has also increased in importance as teams take an all hands on deck approach to slowing down increasingly creative offenses and quarterbacks who can do it all. Baker possesses the requisite play making skills to matter no matter what the next offensive evolution is.
That isn't to say Baker is a finished product.
But this isn't about paying Budda for his past performance. This deal is all about betting on his future performance. If he continues to get better and better, this contract will be a value by year 2 and could be a downright bargain in the final few years. All deals require an assumption of risk and this one makes sense as far as I can tell.
There's also a bigger picture significance to this deal.
The Cardinals are creating a new football culture around franchise quarterback Kyler Murray. While veteran players still have an enormous role on this team and its locker room, very soon this team will belong to the younger players. Baker embodies the exact player you want to reward as an organization.
Drafted at the top of the second round, Baker waited his turn to start and in the process became a Pro Bowl caliber special teams player. Then, once he had the opportunity to start, he became one of the teams most versatile play makers.
The message this deal sends to the rest of the team and league is that the Arizona Cardinals will reward you for what you do on the field. They aren't going to wring out every ounce of time on your deal. If you show up, work hard and perform - this team will have your back. That's important for a young team and a franchise still battling its past demons.
Sure the Cardinals could've played the long game with Baker but in this instance there's more value to getting the deal done now.
I still have the "Criticize Steve Keim" reflex but the truth it the last two years have been powerful redemption for the once beleaguered GM.
My only slight issue is that if I were running the Cardinals, I'd invest more heavily into the offensive line. The last two offseasons, the Cardinals have poured resources into ILB (Hicks, Campbell, Simmons) and now safety and very little into the offensive line.
But on the Steve Keim scale, they're doing great.
So well in fact Steve Keim might no longer be the one that needs to adjust; that might be me.