Worth a Shot: Anquan Boldin
With news breaking on Saturday that Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin had rejected the team’s offer of a restructured contract that would see him cost less than a projected $6 million against the 2013 salary cap, it looks likely that the veteran will be released and hit the open market. So what does that mean for the Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco, who relied heavily on him in the playoffs? And where is Boldin likely to find interest in his services as he departs Baltimore? Here we take a look at where both parties will potentially go from here.
The Playoff MVP?
When you win the Super Bowl, it’s usually because more than a few players on your roster have upped their games at the right moments. Boldin was one of those players in Baltimore, producing 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns in the four-game span that led to the Ravens hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans. It wasn’t even so much that he was a constant weapon for the Ravens’ passing offense, but for stretches of their wins against the Indianapolis Colts, the New England Patriots, and the San Francisco 49ers, he just flat out took over.
Be it his third quarter against the Colts, the second half against New England, or the opening drive in the Super Bowl, when the Ravens needed him to make an impact, Boldin was there for the Ravens and Flacco. If you need any further evidence of this just take a look at one of the defining plays from the Super Bowl. With the Ravens facing 3rd-and-inches with 7:14 left in the game, Flacco checked out of a run and instead opted to connect with Boldin downfield. Beating cornerback Carlos Rogers, he was able to hold onto the ball and extend a drive that eventually would see the Ravens take a five-point lead late in the game.
That’s the player the Ravens are letting go and, unless they bring him back after letting him test the market, they look set to put their faith in third-year wide receiver Torrey Smith as Flacco’s top receiving option. Smith has developed into one of the premier deep threats in the NFL, but is he ready to take over Boldin’s mantle as the team’s top target? He saw 128 passes thrown his way in the regular season and playoffs combined, just 16 fewer than Boldin, but reeled in just 60 of them and dropped seven. Of those 128 targets, a whopping 41 came on “Go” routes and (if he is indeed set to become Baltimore’s No. 1) he needs to progress a little further in terms of route running as opposed to just beating players deep with his speed. Beyond Smith, it would leave Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss as the next men up before any additions to the roster and, while Jones had big play moments in 2012, neither look like anything more than role players at this stage.
Looking back to the success the Ravens had in the playoffs, you’ll see that six of Flacco’s 11 postseason touchdowns came on throws to a receiver in the slot. That’s not too surprising, given that he had 10 touchdown passes to receivers in the slot in the regular season, but it highlights how dangerous the Ravens’ passing offense was late in the year with a greater emphasis on finding players in the slot.
Throughout the regular season Boldin put up a modest 429 receiving yards and averaged 1.31 Yards Per Route Run (YPRR) from the slot. That was dwarfed by his postseason production which saw him pull in 14 receptions for 252 yards, including four touchdowns and a YPRR average of 2.83. That’s how important he was to the Ravens and their Super Bowl-winning run late in the year. So how do they go about replacing that production?
With the team balking at paying Boldin $6 million in 2013, it’s difficult to see them spending money on a high profile receiver like Wes Welker or Danny Amendola, although a move for a cheaper veteran like Brandon Stokley isn’t out of the question. With Peyton Manning throwing him the ball in Denver, Stokley lead all receivers with a catch rate of 80.4 percent while racking up 544 receiving yards and five touchdowns from the slot.
More likely, however, is that they will stay in-house and look to expand on tight end Dennis Pitta’s role. Pitta, a restricted free agent himself, quietly pulled in 75 receptions for 832 and 10 touchdowns in the regular season and playoffs in 2012, with just one of those touchdowns coming from a traditional tight end position. The 109 targets he saw a year ago saw him third on the team behind Boldin and Smith while his 1.76 YPRR from the slot in the regular season was behind only Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham among tight ends. Indeed, if Boldin was Flacco’s security blanket, Pitta was his favorite teddy bear with him routinely looking for the 2010 fourth round pick in the red zone.
What Next for Boldin?
If he is indeed to leave Baltimore, it’s tough to see Boldin struggling to find suitors for his services. He’ll be 33 in October but his play late in the year shows that he can upgrade most receiving corps in the league, even if it is on a short-term deal. Also, in what could be a nightmare scenario for the Ravens, two of the biggest rivals in terms of contenders in the AFC could be right at the top of the list.
New England Patriots
New England is potentially about to lose Welker, who was second to Boldin among wide receivers with 190 yards from the slot in the playoffs. The difference being that Boldin didn’t drop a single one of the 20 passes thrown to him from the slot in the playoffs, Welker dropped four on the same number of targets. Drops are nothing new to Welker, with the former undrafted free agent dropping 11.28 percent of the 133 catchable balls thrown his way in the regular season. In fact, since we began grading in 2008, Welker has dropped a whopping 62 passes, including 19 in 2012. Boldin on the other hand, has dropped just 27 passes in that same period and lead all receivers with a Drop Rate of just 2.99 in the regular season a year ago. Top all that off with Boldin’s performance against the Patriots in New England in the AFC Championship game, and it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t be interested.
While they were burned badly by Jones and Smith in their playoff loss to the Ravens, the Broncos are another team for whom Boldin would represent an upgrade. Bear in mind that Peyton Manning isn’t getting any younger, and that the window of opportunity for them isn’t getting any wider. Thus, it becomes apparent that Boldin is the perfect candidate for a team looking to find that player to put them over the top in 2013. They got tremendous production out of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker a year ago, with the two combining to pull in 23 touchdowns and finish the regular season with Manning having a Quarterback Rating of 126.2 and 123.7 when targeting those two, respectively. Still, they combined to run just 153 routes from the slot and Boldin would definitely represent an upgrade over the free agent Stokley.
From Boldin’s perspective, either New England or Denver would be a great choice, given that he’d be catching passes from one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but even if neither of those teams come calling don’t expect him to be out of work for long. The Ravens may be playing a dangerous game where they hope to match any offer Boldin gets on the open market with the expectation that it’s lower than the $6 million he was due to receive in Baltimore in 2013, but if it doesn’t work out that way, they’ll have their work cut out for them replacing his all-around play.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon