It's hard to argue that the Baltimore Ravens are wrong in trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday. The Ravens have seemingly made all of the right moves the past few years, which culminated in a Super Bowl title this year.
Baltimore has made the tough calls in the past, parting ways with wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap, guard Ben Grubbs, nose tackle Kelly Gregg and linebacker Jarret Johnson. And, each time, the Ravens have absorbed the loss and continued to win in the playoffs.
This time, however, it just doesn't feel the same. The Ravens will regret getting rid of Boldin for a sixth-round pick. Yes, a sixth-rounder. That shows you how little the Ravens valued Boldin or how much the Ravens needed the cap room. Baltimore gains $5.5 million in cap room with the move, but the team loses much more in the process.
The Ravens held a VIP screening of a film featuring game highlights of their Super Bowl season Monday night. They'll be reminded of what will be gone when watching clutch catch after clutch catch in the playoffs. In Joe Flacco's words, Boldin was "a beast" in the postseason. He caught 22 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns in four playoff games. The Ravens don't win a Super Bowl without Boldin averaging 95 yards per game in the postseason and catching that third down-and-inches pass in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. It feels like the Ravens done it again and pulled "a (Trent) Dilfer" on Boldin.
When the Ravens released veterans in the past, they usually had a backup plan in place. Who is going to step up to replace Boldin? He wasn't Calvin Johnson or even Stevie Johnson, but Boldin did lead the Ravens in receiving the past four seasons. He has also scored six touchdowns in eight playoff games with the Ravens. Boldin came up big in big games, showing he was just as tough mentally as he was physically.
There is a point to the argument that you want to get rid of a player before he hits his decline. The Ravens timed that perfectly when cutting Mason and Heap three years ago. Mason's skills were fading, and Heap couldn't stay on the field. But Boldin, 32, won't diminish as quickly as other receivers because his game isn't built on speed. He doesn't get much separation. He gets his receptions by fighting for the ball better than any other receiver in the league. You know what you're going to get from Boldin: around 60 catches for 850 yards and a handful of touchdowns.
The biggest question is who is going to take over for Boldin. One solution is to use tight end Dennis Pitta in a wide receiver role, which gets tight end Ed Dickson on the field. That would put the Ravens' three best targets in the passing game on the field: Pitta, Dickson and wide receiver Torrey Smith. Pitta has some receiver qualities, but it's risky to think he can make the same impact going against cornerbacks as he did against linebackers and safeties.
The Ravens could go into the free-agent market, although that will eat up valuable cap room. Baltimore traded Boldin because he refused to take a pay cut from his $6 million salary in 2013. Boldin, however, wasn't getting overpaid. As Peter King from Sports Illustrated pointed out, Santonio Holmes ($11.25 million), Sidney Rice ($8.5 million), Stevie Johnson ($7.33 million) and Miles Austin ($6.73 million) were all getting paid more than Boldin this year. I'm not sure who the Ravens can get in free agency who can replace Boldin and cost less.
The other route is the draft, and this is where history works against the Ravens. Before selecting Torrey Smith in the 2011 draft, the Ravens struck out in developing a receiver, whether it was Patrick Johnson, Travis Taylor or Mark Clayton. It's tough to believe the Ravens can find someone in the bottom of the first and second round who can deliver immediately.
The NFL is a business, but this is the tough part of it. A player can help lead a team to the Super Bowl and be gone five weeks later. And, unless the Ravens can absorb a loss of another veteran like they've done so many times in the past, Boldin won't soon be forgotten this year.