Assessing the Anquan Boldin Trade, and Where He Fits into the 49ers' Offense
The NFC West is the place to be the day before free agency begins. Earlier this afternoon the Seattle Seahawks traded three draft picks to the Minnesota Vikings for Percy Harvin (via Jay Glazer), the Arizona Cardinals released former first-round pick Beanie Wells (via Kent Somers) and now the San Francisco 49ers have traded a sixth-round pick for Anquan Boldin, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun:
Anquan Boldin traded to 49ers for a sixth-round pick— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) March 11, 2013
The Harvin deal may seemingly have the biggest wow factor, but the biggest steal of the day was easily the Boldin trade.
Much like the Seahawks-Vikings trade, the deal made a ton of sense for both organizations. Ozzie Newsome was looking to unload the 32-year-old wideout because he carried a $6 million cap figure in 2013, and Trent Baalke was looking to upgrade a position that still needs some retooling after a couple veteran departures.
San Francisco finally saw Michael Crabtree come to light in 2012 with a fine 85-catch, 1,105-yard season, but outside of him, their next most productive receivers were Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. Both players combined for 883 yards and four touchdowns, so it's easy to see why the 49ers made this move.
Not to mention the fact that Manningham will be coming off a late-season ACL injury, which only means there are no guarantees as to how productive he will be in 2013.
Boldin, on the other hand, is about as good as your going to get for a wide receiver on the wrong side of 30. He has only missed three games since joining Baltimore in 2010. He has caught 186 passes over the course of that three-year span and amassed 2,645 yards.
Not No. 1 wide receiver numbers, but fortunately for the 49ers, they won't have to use him as their No. 1. As I mentioned above, Crabtree will take care of that. Boldin will be a guy who can be relied upon as a solid No. 2 guy who can be moved around to create mismatches, much like he did during Baltimore's postseason run just months ago.
Boldin is often viewed as a possession receiver that doesn't pick up chunks of yards down the field. He debunked that myth quite quickly in the Ravens' four playoff games this past season. The former second-round pick led all postseason receivers in yards, catches and touchdowns.
Moreover, he led all postseason receivers in explosive plays as well. According to NFL.com, Boldin had six catches of 20-plus yards and two catches of 40-plus yards. No other wideout or tight end even managed to tie the numbers he put up. The only two to who came close were Vernon Davis and Torrey Smith—they had seven explosive plays each.
So based on what we know both structurally and statistically, what can we realistically expect from Boldin in 2013? Will he be that same explosive player he was during the playoffs this past year, or will he be even better?
In all reality, it would be wise to keep expectations low and keep in mind his numbers from the 2012 season. Catching 65 passes, gaining 921 yards and catching four touchdown passes should be the ceiling on a player who is coming into an organization that has more offensive talent than the Baltimore Ravens.
He will have to make the most of every opportunity when called upon because guys like Frank Gore, LaMichael James, A.J. Jenkins, Davis and Crabtree will all want the ball as well. It's also worth mentioning that San Francisco could easily draft another wide receiver with one of its 14 draft selections.
Undoubtedly, he will have to make an impression, just like any other offensive player on the roster.
Even though it's unlikely at this point, Boldin could be cut without any ramifications. His current contract is not fully guaranteed and there is absolutely zero dead money attached to his deal right now. Yet for that to happen, he would have to totally bomb out. Much like Brandon Jacobs did last year towards the end of the season.
His contract will have to be dealt with before his role is fully decided. Obviously the 49ers took him on with the intentions of paying him his $6 million, but I could easily see them trying to redo his deal once he passes his physical.
Adding another year to the deal could allow them to stretch out some of that $6 million. He's already told multiple outlets that he's not willing to take a pay cut, so the Niners will have to pay him one way or another if they want to see him in uniform.
Once the contractual figures get worked out and he's no longer the seventh-highest paid wide receiver in the game, then Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh can start devising a role and game plans for Boldin.
One area in which they could start is the red zone. We all know he would have come in handy on the 49ers' last offensive drive of the Super Bowl.
Below is a prime example of how he uses his size and creates matchup problems in the slot. Which is why I believe San Francisco would be at its best offensively if they used him there. Imagine them lining up Davis and Boldin up in the slot together, defenses would be having nightmares because of the overall physicality they both bring.
With him on the inside, one could then put Crabtree and Jenkins on the outside. Shoot, if Jenkins is still not ready to play, they could put Manningham on the outside as well. The options are quickly becoming endless based on all the offensive talent they have.
There's no reason Boldin can't be a solid No. 2 option that plays similar to the way he did in Baltimore. It's a plus that he doesn't have to be the guy. He can just continue to do what he has done over the past three years. Be productive and stay healthy, Boldin. San Francisco is expecting nothing more.
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