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Cardinals Baker brings the 'juice' with adjusted contract; PHNX has the actual details

Howard Balzer Avatar
July 28, 2023

When Cardinals safety Budda Baker reported to training camp Tuesday and then was on the field for Wednesday’s first practice, some eyebrows understandably raised.

The prevalent thought after an offseason loaded with intrigue about Baker’s contract situation amid the numerous changes on the team’s roster, was that most believed Baker wouldn’t practice (which was the case at the mandatory minicamp in June) without a new deal.

Most wondered whether an agreement was close or if it had quietly been already done.

That turned out to be the case. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media tweeted Thursday morning that “Baker received a raise prior to camp, getting $2.4 million in bonuses and incentives this year including a $300K signing bonus. He also received a raise for next season.”

While the numbers were mostly accurate, they were also misleading, incomplete and absent of details. In fact, the maximum he can earn this year in bonuses and incentives is $1.75 million, not $2.4 million.

Of course, that is usually the case when the network insiders receive texts from agents about contracts and then race to be the first to put the information on Twitter. It’s understood that the agents only relay the terms they believe are beneficial to themselves and their client.

Readers here and who follow me on Twitter know I consistently work to get the specifics of contracts to set the record straight. Sometimes it takes several days. In this case, it took about three hours.

Here’s the breakdown of the adjusted contract from what was originally remaining on the two-year deal he signed three years ago: $13.1 million in salary this year and $14.2 million in 2024 with nothing guaranteed.

For this season, not originally reported was that Baker’s salary is now fully guaranteed. In some respects, that’s meaningless because it would become guaranteed when he is on the roster for Week 1.

The $1.75 million in bonuses and incentives includes the $300,000 signing bonus. The remaining $1.45 million is:

*Up to $200,000 in per-game active roster bonuses ($11,764.71 for each game);

*Up to $750,000 million in playtime bonuses at increasing levels of percentage of snaps. He can earn $350,000 for reaching 65 percent of the defensive plays, but less than 75 percent; $500,000 for 75 per, but less than 85 percent; $750,000 for 85 percent or more.

*A 500,000 incentive for the Pro Bowl or first-team All-Pro.

A package of $1.25 million is in play for 2024 because there are no per-game roster bonuses.

For next season, his salary remains the same with nothing guaranteed. So, what was the “raise” for 2024? That’s a $400,000 bonus for participation in the voluntary portion of the offseason program.

There are no years added to the contract. Several weeks ago, Baker’s agent, David Mulugheta, told Mike Garafolo of NFL Media that Baker only wants what’s “fair” and that he wanted the team to commit to him beyond 2024. But they haven’t. Yet.

Keep in mind this stunning fact: Aside from the team’s draft choices in 2022 and 2023 plus this year’s undrafted free agents that signed three-year deals that disappear if they are waived, the Cardinals have a mere three other players under contract in 2025: quarterback Kyler Murray, tackle D.J. Humphries and safety Jalen Thompson.

That all begs the question of why the loyal Baker agreed to such a nominal increase of potential compensation. Or why he didn’t insist on a large roster bonus to be paid at the start of the 2024 league year that would force the team to make an early decision on his status going forward.

The only thing that makes sense is that the organization quietly provided Baker with a promise that they would either move on from him in 2024 or engage in a meaningful restructuring that would include an extension of at least two years beyond next season. We’ll have to wait at least six months to see how that plays out

From a football sense, there are only smiles that all is right in Baker’s world, at least for now.

Wednesday, when coach Jonathan Gannon spoke to the media before practice, he was asked about Baker’s mindset. At the time, no one knew if Baker would practice.

“Fantastic. He’s excited,” Gannon said. “He had a big smile on his face. He’ll be out there today. He’s good to go,” while adding that Baker would “100 percent” be in every drill.

Obviously, Gannon knew what the media didn’t know then about the new contract.

Then, when Gannon was asked Thursday if he’s glad to have the offseason story line in the past, he said with a straight face, “What storyline?” and then added, “I’m glad that Budda is out here and he’s going to help us win games.”

The latter remains to be seen, but it’s difficult to imagine the negatives that would have ensued had Baker been traded or staged a long hold-in during training camp.

In front of fans for the first time Thursday, there was a noticeable energy from the team on the field and Gannon noted the effort and enthusiasm.

When asked if Baker is the epitome of that effort and enthusiasm, the coach said. “3’s a really good player. That’s what I notice. Helps the defense. He plays the game, in my opinion, how the game should be played and it’s easy to point out to other people that type of effort and enthusiasm when you turn on the tape. And that’s how he has always been since the first time I studied him coming out of Washington. So glad we have him.

“First and foremost, when you turn on the tape, you want to see who stands out. I think (assistant head coach/special teams coordinator) Jeff Rodgers said it best in his special-teams meeting. When you are looking for guys when you turn on the tape it’s, ‘Who the (blank) is that guy?’ Obviously, everyone knows who No. 3 is.”

In reference to his uniform number, Baker is big on respect and he put on social media a screenshot of the NFL mentioning he was voted 73 in the top 100 voted on by players, but used the word “disrespect” because the photo of him had him in his old uniform No. 32.

As for what makes Baker special, Gannon said, “What’s cool about it is, good players come in all shapes and sizes and different play-styles and it’s kinda like when you say, ‘Well, who does this guy remind you of or who’s the best guys you’ve been around and how does he fit into those guys?’ This guy, he’s just a unique player, he’s got a unique skill set and he does some really good things. There’s a couple guys — I don’t compare people — but there’s a couple guys that have been the cream of the crop that he does remind me of.”

And he surely has the respect of his teammates.

Third-year linebacker Zaven Collins said Wednesday when the first practice was beginning, he was standing around when Baker punched him in the stomach.

“I was like, ‘Who the hell is this?'” Collins said smiling. “It’s Budda.”

Collins added, “He was like, ‘Are you ready?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready, Boo. Let’s go. It’s Day 1 to a long season; let’s get after it.’

“Budda always brings that type of energy. Budda will hold everyone accountable. I remember my rookie season, I messed up a simple play, and he was on the sideline calling me every name in the book. I remember that day vividly. But it wasn’t that he was trying to be harsh toward me. It was because he was trying to make me better.

“That’s something Budda brings.”

In talking to the media Thursday, Humphries mentioned Baker and the importance of the team having leaders. He then described after an offseason of drama how good it is to have him in his familiar spot at the back of the defense.

Humphries said, “Budda is one of those guys that gives me juice. Just seeing him be himself makes me like elevate. That’s the mentality. When you’re a competitor and you see somebody that’s going out on your team, that’s playing so hard, playing so detailed and so keyed in, I’m saying I have to do this, this is the example. I get to watch him do this. I can’t turn around and go out there and lollygag. He sets a fire under me.”

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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