Anquan Boldin has made two things clear this off-season: 1) He was not willing to take a paycut, and 2) He wouldn’t play for a team other than the Baltimore Ravens.
Well, he’ll still have a Harbaugh coaching him last season, but it will be the one that came up short in Super Bowl XLVII.
In a surprising move, the Harbaugh brothers came together on a trade involving Boldin today, with the Ravens sending the veteran wide receiver to the 49ers in exchange for a sixth round pick.
The motivation behind the deal for the Ravens is saving $8 million in capspace on the eve of open season for NFL free agents. If Baltimore wasn’t going to budge on an extension for Boldin, it was smart to get an asset for him, but I am still not totally on board with this decision. Boldin was the second most important player during their magical post-season run last season and he was their most reliable pass cathcher in the middle of the field.
There are some options on the market that can provide the Ravens with what Boldin did, but they will likely be asking for a lot more than the Ravens can afford. This may mean that Jacoby Jones will end up being the number two wide receiver for Baltimore next season, which downgrades their offense quite a bit. Boldin is also a physical blocker that set the tone on the edges for the Ravens, which is something that Jones cannot replicate, even if he was a solid blocker in his own right last season.
Torrey Smith is a young receiver that has flashed potential, but his work on the outside has left a lot to be desired at times, as he struggles to beat one-on-one coverage consistently. Jones has never been a tremendous receiver, with his primary value coming on special teams, so even though Boldin is clearly on the downside of his career at the age of 32, the Ravens are going to be missing a big piece of their championship puzzle on the offensive end next season, which I’m sure would upset Joe Flacco if he wasn’t too busy lounging around on the private island he bought himself last week.
Although John didn’t win the Super Bowl, he seems to have fleeced Jim with this trade. Grabbing Boldin for the small price of a sixth round pick – one of the latest of their 15 selections in the upcoming draft – is an absolute homerun deal for the 49ers, particularly with Randy Moss moving on.
Michael Crabtree emerged as one of the best receivers in football once Colin Kaepernick took over the starting quarterback job last season, but the other receivers on the team underwhelmed. Moss was good for his age, but wasn’t a tremendous difference maker, free agent signee Mario Manningham was horrible, racking up just 44 DYAR (62nd amongst WRs) and a -2.8% DVOA, and first round pick A.J. Jenkins never saw the field. Even star tight end Veron Davis disappeared for the second half of the season until re-emerging in the playoffs.
San Fransisco desperately needed to add some help to their receiving core, specifically someone capable of playing the slot, and now they’ve added one of the surest handed, reliable and physical wideouts in the game. Boldin had the lowest drop rate in all of football out of qualified receivers, mishandling just two passes on 108 targets, and the grabs he was making during the playoffs were absolutely incredible.
Boldin should be able to slide right in as San Fransisco’s #2 receiver, but the 49ers will need to use a steady dose of three receiver sets in order to get Boldin lined up in the slot, an area that the team really struggled in last season. Boldin lined up in the slot for 328 of his 527 routes last season (62.2%) and he delivered 429 yards on 29 receptions (14.7% yards per catch). Boldin is a great route runner that can exploit any linebacker in coverage and can get over on any nickel corner that doesn’t take the right angles.
Take a look at Boldin working on 49ers’ stud linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who was one of the best coverage linebackers in the league last season, in the Super Bowl.
Boldin sets up Bowman perfectly with precision footwork and has Bowman believing that he’s running a crossing pattern.
Boldin plans hard into the ground and cuts back towards the endzone, fooling Bowman and forcing him to turn his hips like a corner to even have a chance on the play. He doesn’t, though, because Boldin set him too well for Bowman to cover the seam correctly, and Boldin made a great grab to score the first points of the game.
Here is another example of Boldin working across the middle of the field, this time against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Baltimore has vacated the middle of the field with a play-fake, leaving Devin McCourty isolated on Boldin without linebacker help on a crossing pattern.
Baltimore acts accordingly, having Boldin break McCourty’s jam at the line to get into the middle of the field.
Boldin tops off his great route with an even better catch, showcasing those brilliant hands and even a little bit of hops for someone in his 30’s.
Crabtree is San Fransisco’s game changing weapon on the outside and Davis is one of the league’s most dynamic tight ends. Adding a veteran like Boldin that can still contribute as a secondary threat for the price of nothing is a tremendous move that will improve San Fransisco’s already elite offense. And on top of what he adds as pass catcher, Boldin should be a solid lockerroom role model for Crabtree, well, at least if Randy Moss hasn’t already corrupted him, and Boldin is a strong run blocker that will be useful in San Fran’s power rushing attack.
The fact that San Fransisco got Boldin for nothing is even more important when you consider the ransom that Seattle paid for Percy Harvin earlier today. Harvin may be a more impactful player, but for what San Fransisco needed, Boldin’s acquisition is just as good of a move.