When the San Francisco 49ers traded a sixth round draft choice to the Baltimore Ravens for veteran WR Anquan Boldin, it was arguably the best trade for a player the 49ers front office has pulled off since they acquired Steve Young in 1987. The 49ers dealt a relatively worthless sixth round selection in a draft in which they held a plethora of extra picks for a player who would go on to have a hugely successful season and a powerful impact on the locker room.
After the 2012 season Boldin was due to turn 33, had a fairly high salary cap number and was considered by some to be a declining player. Hence the fact that he could be had for such a low asking price. Rumors of his decline proved to be greatly exaggerated. After Baltimore switched offensive coordinators and their offense came to life at the end of last season, Boldin had an outstanding playoff campaign. In 4 post season games he caught 22 balls for 380 yards and 4 touchdowns. Due to
having to sign Joe Flacco to a gigantic contract salary cap issues, the Ravens were forced to jettison Boldin and the six million dollars he was owed for 2013. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was more than happy to do his brother a solid, taking Boldin off of John Harbaugh’s hands and clearing up some cap space for the Ravens.
The original plan, which in the end proved to be ultra effective, was to pair Boldin with 49ers star wide out Michael Crabtree. Boldin wouldn’t have to be Colin Kaepernick’s number one target, he would not be matched up with the opponent’s best cornerback and he would not have to see double teams. He would also keep opposing defenses honest and take some of the heat off of Crabtree, who was coming off of easily his best season in 2012 and was Kaepernick’s favorite receiver. The best laid plans changed when Crabtree tore his achilles in May. Suddenly, Boldin was all the team had at wide out. The rest of the sub standard receiver corps included Kyle Williams, who was recovering from an ACL tear, first round bust A.J. Jenkins who would be traded for another bust, Jonathan Baldwin and Marlon Moore, who for reasons that still haven’t been explained, was anointed the starter in training camp and went on to catch exactly one pass for six yards before being released after six games. The two remaining receivers were unknown quantities. Quinton Patton, a rookie fourth round draft pick who would be injured most of 2013 and veteran Mario Mannigham, who was coming off of ACL and PCL surgery and would not be available for the start of the season. Manningham never fully healed and only ended up being available for six games.
Outside of Boldin, this was a feeble bunch of receivers. He went to work picking up the slack immediately, catching 13 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in his 49ers debut against the Packers. Of course Boldin could not maintain that level of production ,but he held down the 49ers passing attack at wide out pretty much single-handedly. In the first 11 games before Crabtree’s return Boldin had 52 receptions for 724 yards and 5 touchdown’s. During those same 11 games the rest of the wide receivers combined for 25 catches and 240 yards with zero TD’s . It’s safe to say that without Boldin as the number one wide out the 49ers might have had a historically bad wide receiver group prior to Crabtree’s return.
Crabtree’s return on December 1st did not spell the end of Boldin’s success. In the final five games of the regular season Boldin had 33 catches for 455 yards. If defenses wanted to focus on Crabtree, then Boldin had a field day against one on one coverage facing off with the opponents second cornerback. He had huge days versus division rivals St Louis (9 rec 98 yds) and Arizona (9 rec 149 yds 1 TD). When opposing secondaries shifted their focus to Boldin, then Crabtree had time and space to operate. In the wild card playoff round in Green Bay, Crabtree caught 8 passes for 125 yards. The following week in Carolina, the Panthers made it their game plan to limit Crabtree and once again Boldin responded with 8 grabs for 136 yards. This was the exact scenario general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh had in mind when they dealt for Boldin, a pick your poison attack at the wide out position with both receivers capable of doing damage to opposing secondaries.
Without the acquisition of Anquan Boldin in the offseason, the 49ers offense would have been completely lost for the first three months of 2013. Frank Gore might have seen 11 men in the box. Boldin was amazing on the field and off, the consummate professional. He immediately became Colin Kaepenick’s favorite target. He held the 49ers passing offense together like glue until Crabtree was ready to return to the field. He made tough catches in amazingly tight spaces. He had too many huge third down receptions to even keep track, right up until the final drive of the NFC title game. Boldin blocked, did all the dirty work and didn’t back down from any opposing defender all season. If any player on the other side dare to chirp in his presence he was immediately in their face, defending himself and his teammates. In a league full of prima donnas and fake tough guys, he is the genuine article. Boldin is a middle linebacker wearing an eighties number. He’s clearly still more than capable and also a shining example to the teams young wide outs. Here’s hoping that the 49ers and Boldin can come to terms on a new contract and Boldin can possibly retire a San Francisco 49er.
Photo courtesy of USA Today