BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 10/22/2020

Thiel: In Seahawks dreams was ex-Husky Baker

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.

Budda Baker celebrates his sack of QB Manny Wilkins in the Huskies’ 2016 game against Arizona State. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

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.”

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.

 


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YourThoughts

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    As a recent retiree to the Grand Canyon state from the Evergreen state. I’m somewhat forced to watch the Cardinals on tv, though I did pony up the extra $$ to purchase the NFL ticket on Directv so I can watch the Hawks every week. The Cardinals have been a thorn in the side of the Hawks for years, Bruce Arians, former Az coach said that playing at the Clink was like playing a home game for the Cards, their record was certainly a testimonial to that statement.

    This year I believe that the Cards will be making another step towards getting to the top of the NFC West. Will they get there this year, hard to say. But the Hawks just might return to earth this weekend by hitting the desert floor with a thud. Kyler Murray is an amazing athlete that resembles a water bug scooting around on a pond. The Hawks defense will most certainly have their hands full this Sunday. Go Hawks.

    • art thiel

      Murray is going to get his yards and points; the guy the Seahawks need to shut down is the underrated RB, Drake.

      A split in the AZ series, with each winning on the road, is my guess.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        Ok, since you picked a split of games with each team winning at their opponents home field. I gotta ask, what is your opinion now? I don’t believe that game at the Clink will be a do or die game for the Hawks, but a lot will ride on that game. I believe that the Hawks rise to the occasion.

  • Husky73

    If Sponge Bob is Rick, then Mr. Krab is Signor Ferrari.

  • Chris Alexander

    Love Baker, wish he was a Hawk . . . then, when he was drafted, and especially now.

    Two semi-related things . . .

    Sunday’s game with Arizona got moved to Sunday night.

    Pass rush help IS available . . . or was. Yannick Ngakoue could have been had for Seattle’s 2nd round pick and would have fit in under the cap since $8M of his $12M was a signing bonus. Instead, Baltimore got him for a 3rd and a conditional 5th. Ouch!

    • art thiel

      I don’t think Schneider dares further dip into the 2021 draft pool with only five picks, nor the cap space because of the need for injury replacements.

      Time update applied.

  • Chris Alexander

    42-26, Seattle.

    • Bobby Cobb

      Wow! I can’t see the Seahawks putting up 42 points against this Cardinals team. If anything, I see this as the week the Seahawks get spanked. But I’d love to be proven wrong…

      • Chris Alexander

        42 may seem overly optimistic but it’s really just 8 points better than their league-leading season average (33.8), and only 4 points more than their season high (38 against both Atlanta and Dallas).

        Through 5 games, Seattle’s offense has very much been “boom or bust”; they have scored points on 25 of their 56 possessions (45%) with touchdowns on 23 of those 25 drives. But they’ve offset that with 10 three-and-outs and 22 punts.

        Seattle’s offense is next to last in converting 3rd downs and next to last in plays per possession. But they also lead the league in red zone efficiency (16 of 18) with a conversion percentage that would be 10 points higher than the current league record if they maintain it through all 16 games.

        Boom. Bust. Boom. Boom. Bust. Not much in the middle. And, scary as it sounds (for Seattle’s opponents), PLENTY OF ROOM TO IMPROVE.

        On the other side of the field . . .

        Arizona is a solid 4-2 through 6 games and their defense is ranked in the top 1/2 of the league in most statistical categories; in the top 10 in many of them; and they’re #2 in points allowed per game, giving up a paltry 18.7 so far.

        But their record and their rankings are based in large part on having played the league’s easiest schedule thus far (link: https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/nfl/team-defense/2020). And they just put their best defensive player on season-ending IR.

        Their secondary is good, maybe even “very” good. But they only have 3 INTs through their first 6 games and Budda Baker’s INT on Monday night was the 1st of his career. Seattle’s WRs match up well (on paper) and should be able to take advantage of them all game long.

        Then there’s the question of whether or not they can slow down RW3. The QBs they’ve faced this season haven’t exactly been a murderer’s row. Here are the QBs they’ve faced and where they rank in Quarterback Rating, Completion Percentage, and Yards per Game through the first 6 weeks:

        * Jimmy G: 99.2 (12th), 63.6% (23rd), 183.8 (31st)
        * Haskins: 80.3 (29th), 61.0% (27th), 234.8 (24th)
        * Stafford: 91.4 (21st), 60.7% (28th), 248.0 (20th)
        * Bridgewater: 94.6 (18th), 70.9% (4th), 279.3 (10th)
        * Darnold: 70.7 (32nd), 59.4% (30th), 198.0 (28th)

        Note 1: Andy Dalton isn’t ranked yet given that he’s only played one complete game since taking over after Dak Prescott got injured. If he did qualify, his quarterback rating would be better than only Sam Darnold, his completion percentage would tie him with Matt Ryan for 19th, and his 266 yards passing would put him at #20.

        Note 2: Kyler Murray’s stats through 6 weeks have him at #22 in quarterback rating, #16 in completion percentage, and #20 in passing yards per game. Obviously he also runs the ball – he’s the #1 quarterback in the league through 6 weeks and the #13 ball carrier overall (in total yards); 6 spots and 24 yards ahead of Lamar Jackson (the #2 rushing QB).

        As mentioned, Arizona hasn’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of opponents, especially in the QB department. Russell Wilson IS murderer’s row.

        * Quarterback Rating: 129.8; #1 in the league – #2 is Derek Carr at 115.9

        * Completion Percentage: 72.8%; #2 in the league; Derek Carr is just 0.3% ahead of him

        * Passing Yards per Game: 300.4; #3 in the league; 2.8 yards per game behind Matt Ryan. Dak Prescott is #1 at 371.2 per game, but will fall off the list in a couple of weeks. Amazingly, despite not playing in Week 6, Dak is still #1 in total yards, 13 ahead of Matt Ryan.

        RW3 has also carried the ball for 153 yards (#7 among QBs, #51 among all ball carriers).

        Then there’s the timing . . .

        Arizona played on Monday night. Seattle watched that game at home during their break. Seattle is well-rested, Arizona is not.

        Last but not least, the game is now on Sunday Night and Seattle is 30-7-1 in regular season prime time games under Pete Carroll. And I kind of think the team might want to “send a message” in this one.

        So, yeah, 42 points seems like a bold prediction, but I don’t think Arizona can contain Russell Wilson and all of his offensive playmakers. I think Seattle will jump ahead early, Arizona will have to try to catch up and will make mistakes – Seattle’s defense is #2 in the league in takeaways. After a couple of turnovers, it will be all downhill (for Arizona) from there. I think that Arizona will get a couple late scores, thus my prediction that they’ll score 26 points, but the game will be well in-hand by then.

        (you heard it here first :)

        • art thiel

          Good analysis. I agree that AZ’s D is a bit overrated given the opponent, and the loss of Chandler Jones is large. The short week against a team coming off a bye is a big deal, and will help the Seahawks, who always play well in AZ.

  • Stephen Pitell

    These young players are doing pretty darn well considering how young they all are. Learning while winning is wonderful. Our rotation is actually pretty strong. Demontre Moore, Bullard, Rush, Reed, Ford, Snacks, Mayowa, LJ, Green, Robinson, and Mone. There isn’t a wash out in the bunch. They have all gotten snaps and none have washed out. They don’t all tilt the field, but they keep their motors running and are making plays more and more. Give them a chance.

    • Chris Alexander

      Snacks hasn’t gotten any snaps yet. And Green has been on IR the past 3 games. But I agree with your main point – it’s a young group and they’re playing fairly well overall – given the circumstances.

      • art thiel

        You’re right, Chris. Snacks may prove a reach, given how big he is and how long he’s been away from the workout routine. But as a group, they’re hardly without talent. Too bad about the second-rouynd whiff so far with Taylor.

  • jafabian

    Buddy’s success is not a surprise to me. Even before McDowell’s problems I felt that it was an error to pass on him. The knock on him was his smallish stature but Earl Thomas is the same size. Maybe Baker wasn’t at the level Thomas was coming out college but I always felt that would come and it has. I don’t know if Budda was considered the better athlete compared to McDowell but IMO drafting for need over the best athlete usually comes back to bite you.

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    • art thiel

      With some exceptions, best athlete is the rule. But the Seahawks drafts have shown a tendency to out-smart themselves, thinking they see traits others missed, McDowell being the prime example. But all clubs do it to some extent.

      The Seahawks, however, really do need Collier and Brooks to come through.