About 24 hours ago, teams essentially had two options if they wanted to add a reliable player to its safety room before the 2023-24 NFL season: draft a young guy (e.g., Brian Branch, Antonio Johnson) or sign an old guy (e.g., Adrian Amos, Rodney McLeod). Last month’s free agency period had soaked up the rest of available talent at the position.
Now, there’s a third option available.
Source: #AZCardinals star S Budda Baker has requested a trade.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 14, 2023
Let’s get one thing out of the way -- Budda Baker is an objectively good football player. The former Husky earned consensus All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a junior at Washington before he was drafted by the Cardinals in 2017. Over the next six seasons in Arizona, Baker received five Pro Bowl invitations and three All-Pro team selections. No defensive back in the league has more tackles (solo or combined) in that span.
Baker also ranks fourth in tackles for loss, ninth in fumble recoveries, and 10th in quarterback hits among all cornerbacks and safeties in the past six years.
The Cardinals made him the highest-paid player at his position prior to the 2020 season, but Baker has the same wish again. According to ESPN, he told the organization in February that he wants a new deal to make him the top-paid safety or to be traded out of town.
Noted NFL insider Tony Jefferson confirmed that Baker is looking for an upgraded contract. Jefferson, a veteran safety who primarily played in Arizona and Baltimore, also listed several potential destinations for his buddy Budda -- including your Jacksonville Jaguars.
JAX, DEN, PIT, GB , NE all good fits https://t.co/zllzRFa006— Tony Jefferson II (@_tonyjefferson) April 14, 2023
The Jaguars were also mentioned as a team to watch by PFF’s salary cap guy, Brad Spielberger.
Jacksonville currently has just under $15 million available in cap space (though its rookie class will cost about $3 million) according to Over The Cap. Derwin James is currently the highest-paid safety in the league with a four-year, $76 million deal ($19 million per year) with $38.5 million guaranteed.
The Jaguars have the capacity to pay Baker the contract he wants, but the team would also have to offer compensation to the Cardinals (likely a mid-round pick) and continue to push guaranteed money to the future.
Cost is a much bigger issue than fit. Andre Cisco and Rayshawn Jenkins are the expected starters at safety this season, but slot corner is still a major need, and Jacksonville has been unable to consistently cover the middle of the field for several years now. Baker’s presence would immediately fix many of the defense’s problems, even if it means having to shuffle around the safety room.
What say you, Jaguars fans? Let us know in the comments whether you’d be thrilled, upset, or somewhere in-between if Jacksonville sends Arizona its 2023 third-rounder for the right to pay Baker $20 million annually and inject some juice into its secondary.