Hard not to think retiring Anquan Boldin abandoned a sinking Bills ship

Boldin retires to focus on humanitarian work (0:47)

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin retires from the NFL after 14 seasons where he made over 1,000 receptions for nearly 14,000 yards. (0:47)

By itself, Anquan Boldin's decision Sunday to retire and "make the larger fight for human rights a priority" over football might not change much about the outcome of the Buffalo Bills' season.

But as part of the larger picture around the organization in the wake of its move to trade top receiver Sammy Watkins, Boldin leaving the team is a significant development that underscores how, from one perspective, the 36-year-old receiver is abandoning a sinking ship.

Boldin signed Aug. 7, saying he was "playing to win another championship." On Aug. 11, the Bills took a step back from competing for a championship by dealing Watkins, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft, to the Los Angeles Rams for a 2018 second-round pick and cornerback E.J. Gaines.

In a separate trade the same day with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bills acquired wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews fractured his sternum early in his first practice on Aug. 13, which will likely keep him out for the remainder of the preseason.

Then, last Thursday, quarterback Tyrod Taylor gave Bills fans cause for concern by completing 8 of 18 passes for 53 yards, two interceptions and a 12.0 quarterback rating in a preseason loss to the Eagles. After the game, coach Sean McDermott seemed to leave the door open for a quarterback change before giving Taylor a public vote of confidence the next day.

In a span of 10 days, the Bills went from making an apparent win-now signing in Boldin to dumping one of their best young players, Watkins, for a future draft pick and seeing their starting quarterback's hold on his job seemingly erode.

Boldin's retirement statement to ESPN's Jim Trotter cited his humanitarian work as his reason for leaving the game, but it is hard to believe Boldin completely ignored the short-term direction of the Bills in making his decision to walk away.

In his preseason debut last Thursday, Boldin clearly had work to do in getting reacclimated to football after spending the offseason away from the game. He slipped during his route on his first target, nearly causing Taylor's pass to be intercepted. Taylor's second target to Boldin was underthrown and intercepted. Boldin later was flagged for an illegal motion after moving toward the line of scrimmage before the snap. He finished the night with one catch for 5 yards.

Boldin's performance did little to inspire confidence that, as he approached his 37th birthday in October, he would be able to play at the same level that made him a Hall of Fame candidate over the first 14 years of his career.

Despite Boldin's potential decline, first-year Bills general manager Brandon Beane seemed to be leaning heavily on Boldin in making the call to deal Watkins.

"Everybody’s forgetting we signed Anquan last week," Beane said Aug. 11. "This is not a throw-in-the-towel thing at all. Somebody mentioned that somebody said that out there and that quite honestly, that's annoying to me because you don't know me if you think I'm throwing in the towel.

"We've got Anquan, who we added and I told you, I honestly believe he's Hall of Famer and he still can play in this league. Jordan Matthews is a starting receiver and you look at his numbers, what he's done and those aren’t to be laughed at, I guess to say. Tyrod will get every opportunity to lead this team and we're all rooting for him. It's in our best interest."

Now Taylor will not have Boldin and probably not Matthews on Saturday night in Baltimore while attempting to quell outside chatter that rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman should get a look with the first-team offense at quarterback.

When Matthews returns -- he said Sunday he is "extremely confident" it will be Week 1 -- he will shoulder the burden of both learning the Bills' offense on the fly and filling the shoes of Watkins and Boldin at the top of the depth chart.

Beyond Matthews, the Bills will also need rookie second-round pick Zay Jones to make an immediate impact, while offseason free-agent signing Andre Holmes also figures to receive more playing time. Another fallback option at receiver, Rod Streater, injured his toe in Thursday's game and was still be evaluated as he was kept out of practice Sunday.