We will remember this as the day all the wide receivers were traded.
Earlier the Percy Harvin trade that was never happening and then it happened because of course it did went down, with the Seahawks paying a heavy yet very necessary price for a young, athletic wideout to pair with their young, athletic quarterback. Youth, man. We all want it.
Now another wide receiver has been traded, but this time for a price that’s about the equivalent of the dollar values hanging from the discount bargain bins at your local Kwik-E-Mart. This particular pass catcher isn’t young, but he played a major role in both the Ravens’ run to a championship, and Joe Flacco making bank.
His name is Anquan Boldin, and he’s been traded to the 49ers — the team he just helped to beat in the Super Bowl — for a sixth-round pick.
Tee up those witty headlines, just don’t you dare touch “Boldin is beautiful”. That’s all mine.
From the moment this surfaced until this very second you’ve been spewing a substance of some kind all over everything everywhere, even if you’re reading this hours later. At first it’s difficult to grasp that a wide receiver who was legitimately in the conversation for Super Bowl MVP can be traded for just a sixth-round pick five weeks later. The world suddenly seems barren, and cold.
But once you clean up that foreign substance, a few moments of sober thought will lead to the realization that a sixth-round pick — or really any pick at all — is better than no pick (or nothing at all). Boldin and the Ravens were engaged in a very public contractual battle, one that would have ended in him being released and walking away for free if he didn’t agree to restructure a contract set to pay $6 million in 2013. Since that wasn’t happening (stick to yer guns, boy) and letting a receiver of Boldin’s caliber go for nothing sucks pretty hard, a sixth rounder and clearing off that $6 million entirely instead doesn’t sound so bad.
And why, exactly, was a restructure and/or discount needed for Boldin to stay in Baltimore? Salary cap dammit, that’s why. The Ravens’ offense may seem partly decimated right now, but destruction was coming somewhere. The defending champs have roughly $12 million in cap room, and 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. That group includes Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed, and Cary Williams, all key defensive players who are free to depart for richer football pastures starting tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET. Combine that potential implosion with the retirement of Ray Lewis, and the strength of the Ravens for years is getting set to be at least partially torn apart.
Every cent is valuable in the effort to limit that damage, and for general manager Ozzie Newsome the decision then came to either paying a 32-year-old receiver $6 million, or using a chunk of that salary to keep, say, Reed and Ellerbe (or pick any of those two key defensive bodies). This is the fragile reality of the salary cap, and why it’s stupidly hard to repeat as champions in the NFL.
The Ravens now join Minnesota as a team set to likely target a wide receiver at the back of the first round in April, which could be the right value for the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson and Robert Woods. And the Niners? The NFL’s rich now own pretty much every house in the Hamptons.
Once Colin Kaepernick took over, there were so many wonderful things happening for the San Francisco offense. The running game churned out even more yardage as Kaep’s legs pumped, Vernon Davis experienced a sporadic playoff resurgence, Delanie Walker started to matter a lot more, and Michael Crabtree was utilized often in open space while he finished among the league leaders in yards after the catch (462 of Crabtree’s 1,105 regular-season receiving yards came after the catch). But those numbers would be even better if there was someone — anyone — to offer support on the other side. Crabtree was targeted 155 times including the post-season, while 49ers wide receivers not named Crabtree — all five of them — were targeted only 147 times combined. Little help?
The Niners took a low-risk gamble on Randy Moss to be that guy, and he largely failed while fading to a secondary role (434 yards on 28 catches). Now an ideal scenario is set up in which Crabtree can continue to dominate intermediate routes and chug after the catch, and then Kaepernick has a large-bodied red-zone target in Boldin with great leaping ability. One can finish off what the other starts, and as part of the read-option schemes Kaepernick will also have multiple trusted targets who excel up the middle (Boldin, Davis, Crabtree), and are very comfortable in traffic.
The Vikings were also involved in the Boldin shopping, because teams do that when their wide receiver depth chart looks like this after a major trade…
After Harvin trade, #Vikings WRs under control for the 2013 season: 1) Jarius Wright 2) Greg Childs 3) Stephen Burton 4) Chris Summers.
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) March 11, 2013