The Bills got a good receiver Monday.
As with many recent Bills signings, they got a good leader and a man of good character as well.
The team signed Anquan Boldin on Monday to a reported one year contract. It’s thought he’ll make just under three million dollars with a chance to push the deal to four million.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Boldin backed out of a deal earlier during the weekend, but Bills GM Brandon Beane said he would not call it that. “We had conversations in the sense of we knew where the money needed to be and we had agreed on that, but it was never a backed out,” Beane said.
According to Beane, the deal was consummated a couple days ago. Boldin’s wife and family figured prominently in the decision. Once they were on board with Buffalo, so was he.
Bills receivers not named Sammy Watkins or Zay Jones have struggled during training camp, so Boldin will solidify that depth chart. However, Beane said that was not a factor in Boldin’s signing.
“I’ve been a big Anquan fan from afar,” Boldin said. “Even if I had the likes of Jerry Rice and guys like that on this team, to get an Anquan is an addition and has zero to do with where our receivers are.”
Beane did not guarantee Boldin would be a starter, saying he will have to complete. It seems unlikely Boldin will not beat out the likes of Andre Holmes, Rod Streater and Philly Brown for a starting or regular spot in the receiver rotation.
He can play at the outside position across from Watkins or in the slot. Rookie Zay Jones seems more comfortable in the slot, which may push Boldin to more snaps outside.
No matter where he plays, Boldin’s best contribution may be in the locker room. Holmes and Streater are both 29, but none of the rest of Buffalo’s expected top receivers are older than 25.
Beane thinks Boldin will guide the Bills “in the meeting room, in the training room, how to eat right.”
“Anquan is a move for now, but he’s also a move for the future in the sense that this guy can show what it takes,” Beane said. “He’s been there – Super Bowls, I mean, you name it, he’s done it.”
Boldin was named Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2015. The award is generally seen as the highest honor for character in professional football.
This will be Boldin’s 15th season in the NFL. He made his name in seven years with Arizona, then played three with the Ravens and three in San Francisco before moving to Detroit last season.
The soon to be 37 year old (October 3rd is his birthday) is still very productive. Boldin had 67 catches for 584 yards last season. On the bright side, he had eight touchdowns.
“That doesn’t just happen in the NFL,” Beane said. “You see him win. Even if his speed is not what it was – he was never a burner – but he still knows how to win. He knows how to play the game. Contested balls, he comes down with his fair share and then some.”
The Bills could badly use red zone production from their wideouts. Other than a nine-score season for Watkins in 2015, no Bills receiver has outscored Boldin’s eight TDs last year since 2010.
On the down side, Boldin’s per catch average was 8.7 yards last year. It was second worst in the league among WRs with at least 20 catches and nearly three yards worse than any other season in his career.
He made only five catches of more than 20 yards in 2016 and one of those was a meaningless Hail Mary.
Boldin also has experience with Tyrod Taylor when the two were together three seasons in Baltimore. In fact, Taylor’s first NFL completion came to Boldin on the final play of a 20-point Ravens loss to San Diego in December of 2011.
“In my opinion, Anquan Boldin is a Hall of Fame player,” Beane said. “Add that to winning the Man of the Year Award and we’re excited.”
Boldin will help the Bills, no doubt. He doesn’t just improve the “2nd wide receiver” position, but he makes Holmes, Streater, et al more formidable as the 4th and 5th receivers behind Sammy, Zay and Boldin.
His eight touchdowns and 67 catches clearly indicate he can win routes. It will be nice to see the Bills in 3rd and four or five and not completely anticipate a quick pass to Watkins.
The red zone production may be a bit inflated. His last seven seasons of TDs before the eight scores last year: 4, 7, 3, 4, 7, 5, 4. Still, his physicalness will be an asset if Taylor can use it properly.
The concern is the yards per catch number. That’s a huge drop in one season. Is he losing a step? As Beane indicated, he never was a speed guy, but there’s still an amount of speed and quickness required to separate from coverage.
Also, Buffalo’s offense only really had one deep threat last year in Watkins. Boldin won’t change that. Teams that were successful pushing all but one deep safety close to the line of scrimmage (and many were) can continue to play the Bills that way even with Boldin on the field.
The more I think about this move, the more I think it’s not really about this season. Sure, Boldin makes the Bills better right now, but he’s not likely making them a playoff team or more than one win better.
But, if he can teach Watkins and Zay and the rest of the young Bills enough so they reach whatever ceiling they have WHEN the Bills are ready to make the playoffs, this move will be plenty worth it. Even if Boldin doesn’t catch a single pass.