Ashley Fox | ESPN.com
Anquan Boldin isn’t bitter.
A little hurt, maybe. A little scarred. No one likes to be discarded.
It doesn’t matter now, though. As much as he wanted to stay in Baltimore — although, understandably, not enough to take a $2 million pay cut — Boldin is in the perfect spot. It could not have worked out better, for him or the San Francisco 49ers.
For Baltimore, not so much.
But this isn’t about bitterness or regret or rubbing his success in the face of his former employer. Boldin helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl last season. Without him, they likely wouldn’t have been able to win four playoff games and hoist the franchise’s second Vince Lombardi Trophy.
No, this is about seizing his latest opportunity to win another ring, this time with his former head coach’s brother. That all Baltimore wanted for him was a sixth-round draft pick — well, Boldin can’t dwell on that.
“I couldn’t have fell in a better situation, to be honest, with the group of guys I’m around now, the group of coaches,” Boldin said Sunday night, after the Niners beat Carolina to advance to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against Seattle.
“I think I fell in the perfect situation,” he added. “It’s a blessing for me, definitely.”
Boldin is right. San Francisco was the perfect fit for him. For that, he should thank John Harbaugh.
Harbaugh didn’t trade Boldin to some wasteland. He traded him to a contender fresh off a stinging Super Bowl loss. Boldin saw it the second he got to San Francisco. The players and coaches, including coach Jim Harbaugh, were hungry. They weren’t satisfied with having reached the Super Bowl. They wanted more, and they wanted it now.
Boldin got it. He knew. He waltzed in with his world championship ring not as a braggart, but as an example of what the Niners wanted. He was right there, the living, breathing embodiment of what the team was striving to achieve.
Quickly, as he said, Boldin saw that the players wanted to “make right on the wrong.”
And Boldin wanted more, too. Whether he would admit it, he wanted to prove that the rap against him was wrong. The Ravens were caught in a salary-cap conundrum, yes, but the book on Boldin was he could no longer gain separation from defensive backs because he was too slow. He wasn’t worth $6 million to the Ravens.
So far, he has been invaluable to the Niners.
While Michael Crabtree, San Francisco’s No. 1 receiver, was sidelined until December as he recovered from an Achilles tendon tear, Boldin was instrumental to San Francisco’s offense. He finished the regular season with 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. It was his first 1,000-yard season since 2009, his last year with Arizona.
The playoffs are where Boldin has been most effective. In four postseason games for the Ravens last season, Boldin had 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns. He had a huge game in the Super Bowl, with six catches for 104 yards and a score.
In two games for the Niners this postseason, Boldin has 11 catches for 174 yards. Although he has not reached the end zone, a pass interference penalty he drew last week against Carolina led to a Vernon Davis touchdown.
And Boldin has continued to be big in getting the Niners a fresh set of downs. After not catching a pass in the first quarter against Carolina, he finished with eight catches for 136 yards; all but one of his catches went for a first down.
“He’s a great football player, and that’s probably the highest compliment you can give to anybody who plays football,” Jim Harbaugh said. “And I believe he’s as tough as any player at any position in the National Football League, both mentally and physically. And we all have the utmost respect for Anquan Boldin and what he does for this team. Tremendous, tremendous teammate.”
Boldin’s teammates agree.
“In the games, he’s always real chippy, and he knows what this game’s about,” offensive guard Alex Boone said. “You know he’s got to be tough to play, and he does a great job of it. … I think he’s worth a first-round pick, and I think the Ravens are really kicking themselves right now.”
There it is again: The pick. When Boldin was asked if he felt he was worth more than a sixth-round pick, he quipped, “You can ask Baltimore that.”
John Harbaugh acknowledged after the season that, for whatever reason, the Ravens weren’t able to replace Boldin’s production, although they did use the cap savings to sign several difference-makers on defense. When asked about Boldin earlier this week, Harbaugh said he didn’t want to condemn or defend the trade.
“I love Anquan,” Harbaugh said. “I always have.”
No one loves Boldin now more than the 49ers. Discarded by one team, beloved by the next. For Boldin, it could not have worked out any better.
- ESPN.com NFL columnist
- Joined ESPN in 2011
- Has also worked at Sports Illustrated, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Louisville Courier-Journal