Budda Baker is Becoming the Greatest Defensive Player in Cardinals History

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Budda Baker is Becoming the Greatest Defensive Player in Cardinals History


Budda Baker is Becoming the Greatest Defensive Player in Cardinals History


Newly minted Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort has a difficult road ahead of him as he must figure out how to pull the Arizona Cardinals out of the mud, and back into postseason contention. Ossenfort’s new quarterback, 2019 number one pick Kyler Murray, has shown flashes of superstar potential. However, Murray will also miss a big chunk of the season while recovering from a torn ACL and meniscus. 

Superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been the subject of offseason trade rumors, and met with Ossenfort to discuss his future with the team last month. Team captain JJ Watt, one of the most valuable players on and off the field for Arizona, recently played his final game in the NFL. Lastly, the Cardinals have over 31 free agents on their current roster, the vast majority of which are unrestricted, and Ossenfort must decide how to proceed with each one of them. 

Through all of this turmoil, the one one pillar of consistency for the Cardinals is All-Pro safety Budda Baker. As the Cardinals lone Pro Bowler this year, Baker represented the entire organization with insatiable hunger on the field, and subtle but effective leadership off it. He was the lone bright spot in an otherwise nightmarish season for the Cardinals. Baker, nicknamed “The Eraser” for his ability to erase opposing ball carriers, has donned many numbers for the red and black; but his competitive fire has remained consistently ablaze throughout every game he plays in. 

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The list of great defensive players that had long and fruitful careers with the Cardinals is much longer than most football fans realize. There’s perennial Pro Bowl corner Patrick Peterson, criminally underrated linebacker Karlos Dansby, hulking defensive end Calais Campbell, hybrid safety Adrian Wilson, franchise sack-leader Chandler Jones, Hall of Fame corner Aeneas Williams, lovable defensive tackle Darnell Dockett – the list goes on and on. 

However, I would argue that Baker has performed as well as, or better than every player on that list. Should he remain a Cardinal for his entire career, Baker would have an edge on many of these players, as many of them left for greener pastures late in their careers. In order to fully encapsulate my argument, let us examine the careers of each of the most impactful defensive players in Cardinals’ history. 

One player that undoubtedly has a case as the greatest defensive player in Cardinals history is Patrick Peterson. He was a top three corner in football for his entire career in Arizona, despite being overshadowed by fellow NFC West defensive back Richard Sherman for much of that time. Peterson shadowed number one receivers, kept them on an island, and got the better half of those battles more times than not.

Peterson stamped his Cardinals legacy with elite performance against the best receivers of the 2010s. Matchups with Calvin Johnson, Odell Beckham Jr, Julio Jones, AJ Green, and Mike Evans fueled Patrick Peterson throughout his stellar career in the desert. He may have taken his licks at times, but Peterson virtually always made those individual matchups a treat to watch. 

Despite his successful run in Arizona, which culminated in eight consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, and three first team All-Pro selections, Peterson’s reputation as a Cardinal has dipped in recent years. In 2019, a positive test for PEDs resulted in Peterson receiving a suspension for the first six games of the season, effectively ending his Pro Bowl streak. Peterson would later have a falling out with the organization, feeling particularly disrespected by the Cardinals front office when he became eligible for free agency in 2021. 

Peterson claims then-GM Steve Keim did not extend a contract offer his way, and has held a grudge against the organization ever since, and boy did he make it known this year. Peterson routinely mocked franchise quarterback Kyler Murray, in the Vikings game against the Cardinals this year, a young player he was quite close with throughout his Cardinals tenure. Peterson also disparaged Murray’s ego on his podcast later that year, claiming “Kyler Murray don’t care about nobody but Kyler Murray.” 

Truth be told, Peterson’s childish behavior since 2019 has put a massive stain on his reputation as a Cardinal. It does not help his case that his on-field play has taken a massive nosedive in quality since his suspension. These factors, in my opinion, disqualify Peterson from being considered the greatest defensive player in franchise history. 

Another player worth considering is Calais Campbell. He is one of the most lovable and great Cardinals in recent history. Campbell’s play on the field was as respectable as his dignity and respectful nature off it. Campbell was a dominant defensive force on the Cardinals’ front seven, wreaking havoc as a pass rusher and dominating against opposing rushing attacks. 

However, Campbell recorded his best career seasons away from the desert. He recorded two double-digit sack seasons with the Jaguars from 2017-18, including a year with 14.5 sacks. With the Cardinals, Calais never recorded a double-digit sack season. 

Make no mistake, the box score never told the whole story in regards to Campbell’s dominance. Campbell’s best season as a pro came in Jacksonville, and he has played six of his fifteen NFL seasons away from the Cardinals. Due to that fact, it’s difficult to envision him maintaining an overwhelming case as the best defensive player in team history. 

Fearsome pass-rusher Chandler Jones also deserves to have his name thrown in the ring. Jones, who recently left in free agency to sign a long-term deal with the Las Vegas Raiders, has the most sacks in Cardinals’ franchise history. Jones spent his entire prime in Arizona, making three Pro Bowl appearances, and two All-Pro teams with the Cardinals. 

Chandler Jones currently has the second-most total sacks in the entire league since he joined the NFL in 2012. He was never quite as versatile as say Calais Campbell or JJ Watt, but he certainly made his presence known when getting to the quarterback.

Karlos Dansby is one of the most underrated linebackers of his era, playing eight total seasons for the Cardinals. Dansby is one of three players in NFL history to record 1,300 tackles, 40 sacks, and 20 interceptions in his career. The other two? None other than first ballot Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher. In 2013, Dansby recorded 114 solo tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 19 pass deflections, and a forced fumble, yet was snubbed from the All-Pro team, and did not even qualify for the Pro Bowl. 

In fact, believe it or not despite his elite career production, Dansby never made a single Pro Bowl appearance. Perennially slept on, Dansby may have bounced back and forth between Arizona and other destinations, but he was stellar when he played for the Cardinals. He deserves to be mentioned when recalling the best defensive players in Cardinals history.

Adrian Wilson was an elite safety for years in Arizona. He was a crucial member of the 2008-09 team that made a run at the Super Bowl. Wilson recorded 27 career interceptions, including four seasons with at least 3 interceptions. He also recorded 903 total tackles, but never recorded over 100 solo tackles. Wilson was a 4-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro selection in 2009. He has stuck with the Cardinals organization since retiring, currently serving as the team’s vice president of pro scouting.  

Darnell Dockett played the entirety of his NFL career with the Cardinals, becoming a fan favorite in his time there. Dockett was stellar in the Cardinals run to the Super Bowl, recording three sacks and a fumble recovery in their four-game run. He made three Pro Bowls, and was one of the most entertaining players in the league due to his sense of humor and fun personality. But make no mistake, he lived in opposing backfields as well, dominating in the run game as a defensive tackle, and a defensive end when the Cardinals switched to a 3-4 defense.

Aeneas Williams has perhaps the best argument for anyone right now. After all, he is the only Cardinals player currently in the Hall of Fame, and was a phenomenal player throughout his illustrious 14-year career. He recorded nine interceptions in 1994, which marked the first of six consecutive pro bowl appearances. Williams would go on to record two All-Pro seasons with the Cardinals. In 2001, however, Williams took his talents to a division rival in the St. Louis Rams. Williams won a Super Bowl with them, and garnered a third All-Pro selection, in what was perhaps the best season of his career. Williams recorded three interceptions on the Rams Super Bowl run, before eventually falling to the New England Patriots. 

That leaves us with Budda Baker, a player that has slowly grown into the heartbeat of the entire Cardinals’ organization. In a recent press conference, GM Monti Ossenfort recalled his experience doing a pre-draft interview with Budda Baker, then a scout with the New England Patriots. “I was ready to run through a brick wall for him,” Ossenfort explained, “Budda Baker… represents everything that we want this organization to be, and I am excited to be on a team with him.” Baker notably made a superhuman recovery from a sprained ankle this year, stealing the show on HBO’s in-season Hard Knocks. 

Baker is a five-time Pro Bowler, and a two-time All Pro, and has only been in the league for six seasons. In 2019, he recorded 104 solo tackles, and has recorded at least 98 combined tackles in every season since his sophomore breakout campaign. Baker is only 26 years old, which is the biggest detriment to his claim to the throne. However, Baker is well on his way to becoming the best defensive player this franchise has ever seen. If the Cardinals organization stays true to him throughout his career, just as they have with Larry Fitzgerald, Baker will end his career as the best defensive player in franchise history.

In six short years, his impact on the organization has been massive.  Baker has Campbell’s heart, Peterson’s tone-setting consistent play, and Wilson’s hybrid safety abilities. His blend of passion and talent have made him a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators, and he is arguably the best safety in the entire league. As Baker continues to dominate on the field, his case as the greatest defensive player in franchise history will only grow stronger.


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