Surely the Arizona Cardinals would take 50% of safety Budda Baker if that were available.
So after the Pro Bowler missed last week’s dud of a loss against the Carolina Panthers, they’re over the moon to welcome back 99% of Baker — or whatever is deemed 100% minus a thumbs-worth.
“Nobody means more to this football team than Budda Baker, and you can take that to the bank,” future Hall of Famer and still-pretty-important Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald said this week.
The Panthers dominated Arizona en route to a 31-21 win last Sunday. While excuses — an early start, Baker’s absence and a coronavirus-limited crowd — won’t cover for how they played, it doesn’t mean they aren’t thankful to have Baker back against the New York Jets.
Baker will wear a thumb cast against the Jets in a game scheduled for Sunday morning. As of Friday, the Cardinals were prepping to leave for New York as the Jets determined whether a positive coronavirus test on a player was confirmed.
Baker said his thumb surgery went well and he’s already gotten valuable reps playing without a minor appendage.
“It’s definitely restrictive being a DB. I like to use my hands. Then again, I have four other fingers,” Baker said Friday. “For me, I did it in Detroit (for Week 3). Missed a tackle first play of the game but got used to it, but now I know how to tackle without using that right thumb.”
The Cardinals have little doubt Baker will make a difference for a defense coming off its worse performance yet. Widely known as the team’s eraser, the fourth-year safety might be able to cover for a front seven that will be without starting outside linebacker Devon Kennard.
He will also be a valuable voice for a defensive backfield that may rely on second-year man Deionte Thompson if veteran Chris Banjo cannot play due to a hamstring injury. Banjo is questionable.
“I think Budda makes so many plays that nobody sees. He’s an eraser — he’s so fast, he’s a great tackler so you have certain breakdowns for your front seven that Budda can make right for you,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said.
More than that, and to Fitzgerald’s point, Baker’s energy is infectious despite his calm, quiet demeanor in Zoom interviews and the locker room.
Fitzgerald said Baker plays like he’s “6-foot-4 and 280 pounds” and commands respect with his play and his approachable personality off the field.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t “think you can put enough of an emphasis” on Baker being back.
Special teamer Charles Washington, who got his first playing time at safety in two years against the Panthers, couldn’t help but light up when asked about Baker’s importance.
“Man, that dude is everything y’all see and more on the field,” Washington said.
“From the way that he play, you would think that Budda was rah-rah-rowdy type of dude on and off the field,” Washington added. “That’s the thing I love about him. He can snap into that zone. He can be the coolest dude, laid back, won’t say much, listen to slow jams off the field, but when it’s time to lock in and get to it, he’s going to make it happen.”
The Cardinals could use that self-manufactured energy after two losses in a row to losing teams.
And while Baker may be anxious to return to the field because he missed a game, his whole team was feeling antsy after such a poor performance last week against Carolina. Friday afternoon, the Cardinals were nervously anticipating departure, hoping the Jets game would not be cancelled or pushed back.
“I think this week particularly, all of us want to get back on the field,” Kingsbury said, chuckling in disgust of the Cardinals’ game last week. “We were champing at the bit to get back after it, so when you hear that (news of a positive test) initially it’s like, ‘Oh, no.’
“We want to get back out there. And then you settle in and realize you can only control what you can control.”