By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
7:49 PM EDT, September 8, 2013
Anquan Boldin made an emphatic statement about the state of his game during his regular-season debut for the San Francisco 49ers since being traded this offseason from the Ravens.
Delivering punishing stiff-arms, boxing out cornerbacks for position and running crisp routes, Boldin had a trademark performance Sunday during a 34-28 victory Sunday night over the Green Bay Packers.
The former Ravens wide receiver and Super Bowl XLVII standout caught a game-high 13 passes for 208 yards and one touchdown for the 49ers as he was targeted 17 times.
The typical reaction from Ravens fans Sunday was one of regret, particularly since their team is coming off a 49-27 loss where the passing game sputtered.
The difficult decision to part ways with Boldin was complicated, though.
When the Ravens traded Boldin in March, it followed a contract dispute where negotiations went nowhere on the Super Bowl champions' attempt to convince him to take a $2 million pay cut off of his $6 million base salary to lower his $7.531 million salary-cap figure. Following an impressive postseason, Boldin understandably saw no reason why he should accept a dollar less than $6 million.
And the Ravens were dealing with an extremely tight salary-cap situation that prompted them to address Boldin's contract.
Rather than cut him, which they were on the verge of doing days before the trade, the Ravens unloaded him to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick over a competing offer of a seventh-round pick from the Minnesota Vikings.
As a result of the trade, the Ravens picked up $6 million in salary-cap space that granted them the financial resources to obtain reinforcements for their defense, including outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, defensive tackle Chris Canty, free safety Michael Huff, who struggled against Denver, and middle linebacker Daryl Smith.
At the time of the trade, the Ravens' thinking was that wide receiver Torrey Smith would emerge as the go-to outside receiver and that tight end Dennis Pitta would slide into Boldin's chain-moving role.
The potential season-ending fractured, dislocated right hip that Pitta suffered in August when he crashed to the ground going up for a jump ball in the end zone obviously couldn't have been anticipated.
A credible argument could be made that the Ravens' offense wouldn't have felt the absence of Boldin so severely if not for Pitta being out of the equation on the injured reserve-designated to return list.
The Ravens made a calculated gamble by trading Boldin with the thought in mind that younger receivers would emerge.
So far, Smith has played well and caught four passes for 92 yards against Denver.
It's the other receivers that were shaky, particularly tight ends Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson, who combined for at least five dropped passes with Clark mishandling a potential red-zone touchdown pass in the first half.
The Ravens simply have no one on the roster like Boldin, a strong 6-foot-1, 220-pounder who bullies defensive backs with his superior upper body strength.
They'll have to make do without him and figure out another way to replace his production, which included six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVII during a win over the 49ers and 65 catches for 921 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season last year.
As painful as it is for the Ravens to see Boldin excel for his new team while they go experience growing pains with their revamped offense, none of this should come much of a surprise, if at all.
If anything, it's a predictable scenario unfolding.
Boldin remains a highly-skilled receiver with plenty of football left.
And the Ravens' precarious receiver situation has been exacerbated by the unfortunate injury to Pitta, the one guy they could least afford to lose after trading Boldin.