The Ravens made a tough business decision Monday, dealing veteran wide receiver and playoff hero Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick in April’s draft after Boldin wouldn’t accept a pay cut.
Judging by all of the angry, confused and/or heartbroken Ravens fans that blew up my Twitter immediately after my colleague Aaron Wilson broke the story, the majority of the vocal minority feels that the Ravens did Boldin a dirty, got fleeced by the 49ers in the trade, and/or cost themselves a chance at another championship.
I wrote back in December -- click to slide No. 3 for proof -- that Boldin could be gone after the season. Now I have a few new thoughts after the trade, and I am aware some might not be very popular right now.
Emotions remain raw after the deal, which is a sobering dose of reality after a month of celebrating a Super Bowl victory, and some fans may never get over the deal because the Ravens would not have won the Lombardi Trophy without Boldin’s strong hands and fierce will to win. Heck, the Ravens might not have beaten the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round had Boldin not pulled down a pair of Joe Flacco jump balls. After not catching a pass in the first half, he finished the game with five catches for 145 receiving yards, the most ever by a Raven in a playoff game. He vowed that the Ravens would make things different against the Denver Broncos -- and they did -- and then he scored two touchdowns in the AFC title game and another in the Super Bowl.
For all that, Boldin will be immortalized in Baltimore football lore.
That being said, his production simply did not match his salary cap number, which is why I don’t blame the Ravens for asking him to take a pay cut (and I also don’t blame Boldin for refusing to alter a contract he signed in good faith in March 2010). Boldin will have a base salary of $6 million this season and he carried a cap hit of just over $7.5 million before the trade. But in three seasons in Baltimore, Boldin averaged 62 receptions for 882 yards and five touchdowns in regular-season play. Sure, he took his game to another level in the playoffs, but you can see why the cap-strapped Ravens felt he wasn’t worth the extra $6 million.
(An aside: Some of the folks on Twitter tried to draw a parallel between Boldin’s and Flacco’s situations, but that’s like comparing apples and hand grenades. There is no comparison. Flacco plays the most important position in football and is entering his prime, which is why he got that kind of deal. And if you say he doesn’t deserve to be the NFL’s highest-paid player, just wait and see if he still is six months from now.)
Honestly, the fact that the Ravens were able to secure a sixth-round draft pick for Boldin's services was actually kind of surprising. Remember, trade value has nothing to do with how valuable he was to the Ravens. It is what other teams are willing to give up for his services. The reality is that Boldin turns 33 later this year, carries a $6 million price tag, will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season, and the entire NFL knew that the Ravens planned on cutting him if he didn’t accept a pay cut. There was no Harbaugh-on-Harbaugh inside trading here. That sixth-round pick was simply the best they could get for him.
These past couple of weeks probably felt like a punch to the kidneys for Boldin, who is a proud man, but once the initial sting subsides, I am sure he will quickly realize his situation could be a lot worse. Boldin is going to a stacked team with a good young quarterback that just represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. And the 49ers reportedly plan to pay him his full base salary. Beats playing somewhere like Minnesota.
And for the Ravens, it definitely beats him going to Denver, Houston or -- gasp! -- New England as a free agent. Those AFC rivals could have been suitors had the Ravens cut him instead of sending him to the NFC.
Trust me, the Ravens probably wish Boldin could stick around. He is a respected player and a leader to the wide receivers. But you have to make cold, hard decisions and take calculated risks to remain competitive in the salary cap era. More could be looming, so brace yourself.
Some may argue that the Ravens owe it to the fans -- and to the players -- to go for the repeat, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and company made it clear at the State of the Ravens news conference last month that the organization did not plan on going for broke in pursuit of a second straight title in 2013. They said they were more concerned with remaining competitive for the long haul, because if you are in the tourney every year -- as the Ravens have been every year from 2008 to today -- you’re bound to win one eventually.
The Ravens have locked down their franchise quarterback, they have freed up some cap space so they can be players in free agency if they want, and they could have as many as 12 picks in April’s NFL draft once the NFL hands out compensatory picks. They could use one or more of those picks to acquire a wide receiver they really like next month. They have an emerging young wide receiver in Torrey Smith and another big-play threat in Jacoby Jones. Tight end Dennis Pitta will replace some of what Boldin gave the Ravens out of the slot and in the red zone. But someone else -- I’m looking at you, Tandon Doss -- is going to have to step up.
I’m sure Newsome and the Ravens have a plan in place, as they did in seasons past when they cut popular players such as Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. I am well aware that we live in a world of instant analysis, but it might be best to reserve judgment on the team’s offseason until, you know, the offseason is actually over.
But those raw reactions, isolated by themselves, when it comes to Boldin’s exodus are totally understandable. He was a tough, blue-collared, cliché-inducing player whose strong hands helped the Ravens win it all. It is tough to say goodbye, but if you strip all of the emotions away, you can see why the Ravens did the deal.
That doesn't mean you have to like it, though.