Anquan Boldin

Despite age, Anquan Boldin won’t come cheap

ESPN’s Bill Williamson listed every unrestricted free agent who played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, along with the percentage likelihood they’ll be re-signed. These are all just assumptions, but I found myself in agreement with a lot of what he predicted.

For example, he says there’s a 55% chance Tarell Brown remains a 49er. As I wrote yesterday, Brown said he wants to come back. However, there are a lot of things at play including whether or not the 49ers think Brown can keep playing at a high level and other offers he receives.

Williamson thinks there’s a 90% chance they re-sign Phil Dawson. That might be slight exaggeration, but it’s true that Dawson was a model citizen and kicker. But the most optimistic percentage might be the one attached to the player they acquired for a sixth round draft pick.

WR Anquan Boldin: He is vital. He is 33, so he may not get much interest. The 49ers might be his best fit.

Percentage of return: 75

Let’s explore the part about not getting much interest.

Anquan Boldin NinersHere’s how Boldin ranked in several receiving categories among all NFL wideouts (meaning I didn’t include Jimmy Graham, who also happens to be an unrestricted free agent):

  • Receptions: 13th
  • Yards: 15th
  • Touchdowns 18th (tied)
  • Receptions of 20+ yards: 9th (tied)
  • First downs: 10th (tied)
  • Missed tackles: 10th (tied)
  • Overall PFF score: 9th

Plus, there were only eight wide receivers in 2013 who didn’t had a pass intercepted that was thrown their way. Boldin was the only one of those wideouts who was targeted more than 94 times (Boldin had 123 targets in 2013). Part of the credit for that goes to Colin Kaepernick, but Boldin is known a receiver who fights for the ball and he saved at least a couple passes from getting picked off.

Statistically speaking, Boldin was one of the 15 best wide receivers in the NFL. Boldin also comes loaded with several positive intangibles. Boldin was the only starting-caliber receiver on the team until Michael Crabtree came back from his Achilles tear in December, and in the process of producing in the face of constant double-teams he became one of the team’s leaders. He won the Bill Walsh Award, the team MVP that’s voted on by the coaches. Boldin has been a part of six straight winning teams, playing in 14 postseason games over that span.

Eric Decker is the consensus choice as the top unrestricted free agent at the position. After Decker, it gets murky. Rotoworld has Boldin as the No. 7 WR in free agency. Pro Football Focus ranks Boldin as the No. 5 receiver. Walter Football slotted Boldin at No. 4.

James Jones and Golden Tate have never had 1,000 yards in a season. Hakeem Nicks and Jeremy Maclin are injury-prone. Kenny Britt is a candidate to land in prison at any moment. Riley Cooper, well, he might not fit into the 49ers’ locker room as well as Boldin. Julian Edelman had 105 receptions in 2013, but that was after making just 69 catches in his previous four seasons.

Every non-Decker wide receiver that’s an unrestricted free agent comes with questions. Boldin’s is age. There’s a chance that Williamson is right, and other teams will shy away because of the date Boldin was born. After all, we’ve been watching the guy closely for a year, and that could lead to Boldin getting overrated locally. But he WAS outstanding for the 49ers, and beyond Crabtree and the hope that Quinton Patton takes on a much bigger role next year, the 49ers are left with a lot of questions themselves at a position they’ve had trouble filling for several years.

The 49ers face a lot of offseason decisions. How much money so they want to spend on free agents? Do they need to save room under the cap to extend high-profile guys like Kaepernick and others? How much do they feel like selecting another receiver early in the draft and counting on that player to contribute at a high level in 2014?

When the situation is described that way, it seems fairly likely that Boldin will be back. But I’m more comfortable with a likelihood closer to Brown’s 55% chance of returning.

Granted, Boldin is the oldest guy we’ve mentioned so far. He’s not going to get anything close to the $27 million guaranteed that Mike Wallace received from the Dolphins, or even the $17.8 million guaranteed that Greg Jennings got from the Vikings. Boldin is probably looking at a contract similar to the two-year, $12 million deal Wes Welker (who’s seven months younger than Boldin) got from the Broncos.

Boldin seemed to enjoy his first season with the 49ers, but he also knows his value and how much leverage he holds. Chances are he probably stays, but if the 49ers take their time contacting him or submit what Boldin considers to be a lowball offer, there are surely a few contending teams who’d be interested in paying for his services.

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