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By: Michael Nania
Examining the possibility of Budda Baker being traded to the New York Jets
Here in the 2023 NFL offseason, the New York Jets have made it clear they will not hesitate to pursue noteworthy veteran players. New York is closing in on a trade for Aaron Rodgers and has shown significant interest in household-name free agents like Odell Beckham Jr., Fletcher Cox, and Calais Campbell.
Because of the Jets’ consistent interest in star veterans this offseason, they are immediately linked to just about any well-known player who becomes available.
The latest star to become available is Cardinals safety Budda Baker. It was reported on Friday that Baker has requested a trade. Of course, Baker also plays a position of need for the Jets, which makes him an especially enticing target for the star-hungry Jets fanbase.
Should the Jets go after the 27-year-old five-time Pro Bowler?
Does Baker fill the Jets’ need for a free safety?
As Jets fans are aware, New York is specifically in need of a free safety. The Jets have two strong safeties with extensive starting experience in Jordan Whitehead and Chuck Clark, but the free safety position lacks an experienced starter.
Would Baker be a good fit to slide into the Jets’ free safety role?
The answer is probably “no”. Baker is best known for his work around the line of scrimmage and has mostly served as a strong safety/box player throughout his NFL career.
Here is a breakdown of where Baker lined up in 2022, and how each number compared to the league average for safeties:
- Deep safety: 42.6% (League average: 51.2% / Clark: -8.6%)
- Box: 36.0% (League average: 26.7% / Clark: +9.3%)
- Slot: 15.3% (League average: 16.2% / Clark: –0.9%)
- Edge: 4.2% (League average: 3.9% / Clark: +0.3%)
- Outside CB: 1.9% (League average: 1.9% / Clark: 0.0%)
Baker played in the box significantly more frequently than the average safety, and he played deep significantly less frequently than the average safety.
That’s not to say Baker never played deep, but he ranked only 48th out of 73 qualifiers with 42.6% of his snaps coming as a deep safety, so he’s not quite equipped to fill Lamarcus Joyner’s shoes as the Jets’ primary deep safety. For comparison, Joyner ranked sixth among safeties with 73.3% of his snaps lined up deep in 2022. New York needs someone who is able to play deep for the majority of the game.
In fact, Baker played an even higher percentage of his snaps in the box than Clark (29.6%) and Whitehead (32.0%). He also played a lower percentage of his snaps as a deep safety than Clark (45.3%) and Whitehead (54.6%). So, if anything, he is actually less equipped to play free safety than the two guys the Jets already have.
From a skill-set perspective, Baker’s stardom has always been built around his elite skills as a tackler, run-stuffer, and blitzer. His coverage is mediocre. For his career, Baker has allowed a passer rating of 111.8 on throws into his coverage, according to PFF.
Baker would not address the Jets’ specific needs at the safety position. He’s essentially the same type of safety as Clark and Whitehead – just a significantly better one.
Could the Jets target Baker as an upgrade at SS?
While Baker might not fill the Jets’ immediate need for a free safety, he could still be viewed as an enticing target to improve the strong safety position.
Yes, the Jets already have two viable candidates to start at strong safety in Whitehead and Clark, but neither player can be considered any better than an average starter (at best). The Jets can still greatly improve this position. Just because a hole on your roster is “filled” with mediocre starters, it doesn’t mean you take it off the shopping list.
Plus, the Jets aren’t strongly tied to Whitehead or Clark. Whitehead remains a candidate to be released or take a pay cut, as he is due for a $10.2 million cap hit this season and can be released to clear $7.25 million in space. Clark was acquired for a 2024 seventh-round pick, so it’s not as if the front office views him as a premium player.
It’s also crucial to note that Whitehead and Clark will become free agents after the season, meaning the Jets have a gaping long-term hole at strong safety.
With all of this in mind, there’s no reason to write off the possibility of New York pursuing another strong safety. Will it be Baker? That’s debatable, but the truth of the matter is the Jets’ strong safety position is nowhere near solidified.
Is Baker good enough to be worth a pursuit?
So, what makes Baker so great, and why might the Jets consider trading for him?
Baker has a spectacular nose for the football. That’s what has gotten him to five Pro Bowls. Here are his ranks among safeties since 2017 in a few different categories:
- Total tackles: 650 (1st among S)
- Tackles for loss: 32 (3rd)
- Sacks: 7.5 (10th)
- QB hits: 15 (6th)
- Forced fumbles: 6 (6th)
- Fumble recoveries: 5 (5th)
Baker consistently ranks as one of the most active run-stopping safeties in the league. Here are his ranks in total run stops over the past few seasons:
- 2022: 21 run stops (4th among S)
- 2021: 13 run stops (14th)
- 2020: 22 run stops (2nd)
- 2019: 30 run stops (1st)
The Jets’ run defense at the safety position was an issue in 2022, specifically in the box with Whitehead, whose recklessness caused too many big plays for the opposition. Baker, who is arguably the best run defender in the league at his position, would represent an enormous upgrade for the Jets in this area.
Baker is also a team captain and revered locker-room leader, which could appeal to the Jets.
Baker has two years remaining on his contract. His new team would owe him $13.1 million in 2023 and $14.2 million in 2024.
That’s not a bad price at all for a player of Baker’s caliber. However, it appears Baker’s trade request is due to his desire for a lucrative new contract. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Baker’s trade request occurred back in February, when he asked for Arizona to either make him the league’s highest-paid safety or trade him.
The largest contract among safeties currently belongs to Derwin James. His four-year, $76.5 million deal with the Chargers ranks first among safeties in terms of total value, average annual value ($19.1 million), and guaranteed money ($42 million).
Would the Jets be willing to make Baker the highest-paid safety in the NFL? Paying him in the neighborhood of $20 million per year?
That feels extremely unlikely. Remember, three years ago, Jets general manager Joe Douglas refused to give a record-setting deal to another box safety with limited coverage skills: Jamal Adams. And this was despite Adams being the face of the franchise at the time.
Baker’s contract demands make it unlikely the Jets will seek to acquire him. Based on their moves throughout their time in New York, Douglas and the current Jets regime just don’t seem to value the safety position enough to spend premium assets on it.
Some solid free safeties have gone off the board in free agency this year for reasonable prices, such as Jimmie Ward ($6.5M/yr), Chauncey Gardner-Johnson ($6.5M), and Jordan Poyer ($6.3M). The Jets didn’t appear to be interested in any of them. It would be shocking if the Jets passed on those players but decided to trade for a box safety who wants a record-setting contract.
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Originally posted on Jets X-Factor