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Cardinals extension for Budda Baker sets new bar for John Johnson contract

The Rams have some exciting young safeties in camp but that doesn’t necessarily mean Johnson is expendable

Los Angeles Rams TE Gerald Everett scores a touchdown
Dec 3, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett (81) catches a touchdown against Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (36) in the first quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In two and a half seasons as a starter, safety Budda Baker has been an integral member of the Arizona Cardinals defense, even in moments when he had to transition to a new spot on the field. An all-pro for special teams as a rookie and a Pro Bowl free safety in 2019, Baker led the NFL in solo tackles last season and he’s only 24. The Cardinals rewarded Baker, the fourth safety picked in the 2017 draft and a would-be free agent in 2021, with a four-year, $59 million contract extension on Tuesday.

The deal makes Baker the highest-paid safety in history.

Excuse me ... in “the NFL history.”

(When Schefter tags an agent, it makes me wonder if there’s any negotiation between him and the tagged: “Hey, here’s the scoop, just let me get some social media love too.”)

The deal makes Baker the fifth safety in the league to make at least $14 million per season, notably outpacing sixth place, which is Devin McCourty at $11.5 million. That’s something that Les Snead and the LA Rams will need to be monitoring when it comes to the 10th safety drafted in 2017.

Los Angeles Rams Training Camp Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

After three in the first round and six in the second, John Johnson was the first safety picked in round three. He played in all 32 games over his first two seasons and in 2018 had 119 tackles and four interceptions. Prior to missing 10 games in 2019, Johnson was on track for a contract at least as valuable as that given to Baker.

Johnson will also be asked to play both safety spots, transitioning from strong to free this season. He has seven career picks in 38 games compared to zero for Baker in 46. And Johnson’s year two campaign was arguably better than Baker’s year three. And Johnson is all of 22 days older than Baker.

Assuming that the Rams are focused on finalizing Jalen Ramsey’s contract extension by early next week, it’s more than possible that LA doesn’t want to take the risk of also adding Johnson to the books for 2021 and beyond until they’ve seen how this season plays out. But if Johnson stays healthy, it’s hard to imagine him not playing well enough to become a $14 million per year safety.

It’s impossible to say what the 2021 salary cap will be but the Rams must be prioritizing Ramsey first and then evaluating Johnson, Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett as their next group to consider giving extensions to by year’s end. When it comes to Johnson, the price could be going up every day.

Pardon me ... every the day.