Former Huskies star Budda Baker is helping make Arizona’s defense among the best in the NFL. He could have done same for Seahawks, but in 2017 they thought they had a better idea.
A primary impediment to improvement in the Seahawks defense — whose inadequacies have generated a threat anxiety in the Puget Sound area second only to murder hornets — is that the scheduled starting secondary has been available to play together for less than 80 snaps in five games.
Injuries and an in-game suspension have kept apart cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar, and safeties Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams. Since three were acquired by trades — Griffin is the only Seattle draftee — beginning a year ago Thursday with Diggs’s acquisition from Detroit, the lost reps in practice and games have been costly in time as well as treasure.
Since trading for talent is always more expensive than drafting for talent, the appearance of the Arizona Cardinals (4-2) on the schedule Sunday (changed to 5:20 p.m., FOX) prompts the question among the 12s:
Gee, wouldn’t it have been great to have drafted SS Budda Baker?
Baker is the Bellevue High School grad and former University of Washington star who has blossomed into one of the NFL’s best safeties, which was evident Monday night in the Cardinals’ 38-10 dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys.
“He is everywhere,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said post-game. “You watch the game, and ’32’ shows up in every situation, all night. Such a tremendous player.”
The productivity was why the Cardinals this summer rewarded Baker, who was a first-team All-Pro in his rookie year, with a four-year, $59 million extension. He’s a key part of a defense that has allowed the fewest points (112) in the NFC, despite the loss for the season to injury of DE Chandler Jones, the NFL’s 2019 sack leader.
Seeing the Cardinals as a leading NFL defensive team is little like casting SpongeBob SquarePants as Rick in the re-make of Casablanca. Very hard to accept.
But the little guy (5-10, 195) is clearly a big part of the reason that the Cardinals have their best team in awhile.
“We really liked him,” said coach Pete Carroll, speaking of the club view of the 2017 draft. “We saw him grow up here. He was just such a natural, instinctive football player. It was clear that the size factor might have deterred some people. (It) was just not the consideration (for us). He’s just too good.
“He has become a fantastic factor. We have to know where he is, and make sure that we’re aware of him, because he’s making plays everywhere.”
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) October 20, 2020
In fact, he’s a lot like Adams, who is still nursing a groin injury and sat out Wednesday’s practice. But Adams cost the Seahawks two first-round draft picks, plus SS Bradley McDougald, in a July 25 trade with the New York Jets.
All Baker would have cost Seattle was the 35th pick (second round) in the 2017 draft.
Instead, they chose DE Malik McDowell of Michigan State.
The Cardinals took Baker with the 36th pick.
(Cue the whaa-waa trombone)
Apparently, the damage from the mistake was so severe that Carroll’s brain protected him from the recall of the event. Brains are good that way.
“Really, I can’t remember what that situation was in terms of Budda, but we wanted him as a guy to be on our team,” said Carroll when asked about taking Baker with their top pick. “It wasn’t necessarily about our pick. We might not have had a chance. I don’t remember exactly the circumstances of who else was there at the time.
“We would have loved to have had him on our team. We just weren’t able to get it worked out.”
As Seahawks fans will ruefully recall for Carroll, McDowell never played a down, and ended up in jail. If you have the will, read about it here.
Obviously, drafting Baker could have beenworked out. The Seahawks did have D-line needs after Cliff Avril and Mike Bennett were leaving the Seattle picture. But the failure to heed the red flags NFL scouts raised about McDowell’s maturity represented one of the few abysmal talent-acquisition moments of the Carroll regime.
As we all know, all team have similar whiffs. The Seahawks also own the converse experience.
Every fan around the NFL tends to retch every time he or she sees another highlight-reel catch by WR DK Metcalf, taken by the Seahawks with the final pick of the second round in the 2018 draft. The fan’s favorite team each whiffed at least twice on the guy.
But as far as the here and now, the Seahawks’ back end remains in glue-and-patch mode. SS Lano Hill (back) this week joined SS/CB Marquise Blair on injured reserve. Hill’s spot on the 53-man roster was filled from the practice squad by Damarious Randall, 28, who started 56 games for the Packers.
Dunbar’s sore knee allowed him to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. Ryan Neal, another practice-squad graduate, continues to hold down Adams’ spot. But the gathering of the original four starters remains merely a hope.
“Just being around each other more, playing live bullets, I think that definitely will help,” said Diggs of countering the bad stats. “It’ll be exciting for us to go out there and put a complete game together.”
Yet if Baker had been taken as the heir to Earl Thomas, the fortune spent to get Adams instead could have been deployed to help fix the long-lamented pass rush. The Seahawks are 23rd in sacks (nine) and 28th in third-down conversions (50 percent). Fortunately for them, they’re still tied for the league in turnover ratio (plus-6), and their 27-point average ranks merely 18th. That’s why Seattle remains the only undefeated team in the NFC.
But if you were expecting dramatic pass-rush help at the trade deadline Nov. 3, having no draft capital and less than $4 million under the salary cap, fourth-fewest dollars in the league, should hose that fantasy.
Starting one year ago, the Seahawks began committing a lot of resources to creating an above-average secondary. They’ve barely had a chance to use it. Whenever it happens, some problems may be solved. Until then, feel free to use your imagination Sunday watching the hometown guy.