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Buffalo Bills should target Anquan Boldin

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The veteran receiver could help the Bills’ questionable receiving corps in multiple ways.

The Buffalo Bills’ lack of proven depth at the wide receiver position isn’t exactly a well-kept secret. Aside from top-dog Sammy Watkins, the team will rely upon rookie second round pick Zay Jones, and then any number of players chosen from a list including Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, Brandon Tate, Walter Powell, and Corey Brown.

Adding a player from outside the organization is a possibility with such an uninspiring group. We explored the possibility of signing Dorial Green-Beckham, recently released by the Philadelphia Eagles, earlier this week, but the ultra-talented wide receiver comes with multiple question marks surrounding his effort. Green-Beckham was originally a second round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans, but he was traded to the Eagles after only one season with the team.

Anquan Boldin, the veteran of thirteen NFL seasons who most recently suited up for the Detroit Lions, would be a much better fit for the Bills. Yes, he will turn 37 years old during the season. Yes, his production from last season (67 catches, 584 yards, 8.4 YPC, 8 TDs) indicates that he has lost much of his burst. Boldin’s impact, however, could be far greater off the field and in the locker room than in between the lines. I also believe that he still has quite a bit of value on the field, at least enough to justify signing the veteran for the 2017 season.

Boldin is, by all accounts, an incredible teammate and a man of tremendous character. He was named the 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year for the work done through his eponymous foundation (Q81). If head coach Sean McDermott is truly looking for players who can produce on the field and set a great example off of it, Boldin would be a tremendous add to his roster, and an even better add to his locker room.

As talented as Green-Beckham might become, adding him provides the possibility of yet another flameout in the young man’s career. With two young players topping the current depth chart, adding a veteran of Boldin’s stature (he is currently ninth in NFL history in receptions, and fourteenth in receiving yards) would help both Watkins and Jones immensely. Especially if Sammy is finally beginning to mature (as Tyrod Taylor said around the 7:20 mark in this video posted in May by buffalobills.com), adding a true professional to the wide receiver room could only help him in that process. The help that Boldin could provide Jones in the latter’s rookie season goes without saying.

The possibility that Father Time will catch up with Boldin in his age-37 season is a risk, but it’s one that the Bills should feel fairly comfortable taking. With $12.3 million in free cap space, according to Spotrac, the Bills can still afford to add Boldin and have room to spare. A similar contract to the deal he signed with Detroit last year (1 year, $2.75 million) would leave the Bills with enough room to chase a veteran safety to add depth there, or still leave the team with approximately $10 million in space to use as they please.

While Boldin may be “ancient” in football years, a successful age-37 season would not be without precedent. Looking at the other wide receivers who are members of the “1,000 catch club,” some of them still were able to enjoy some success as their beard grayed.

Wide Receivers with 1,000 Receptions, Age-36/37 Seasons

Player Age-36 Season Age-37 Season
Player Age-36 Season Age-37 Season
Jerry Rice 82/1157/9 67/830/5
Marvin Harrison 60/636/5 N/A
Cris Carter 73/871/6 8/66/1
Tim Brown 81/930/2 52/567/2
Terrell Owens 55/829/5 72/983/9
Reggie Wayne 64/779/2 N/A
Steve Smith 46/670/3 70/799/5
Isaac Bruce 61/835/7 21/264/0
All statistics from profootballreference.com

I omitted the tight ends (Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten) with 1,000 catches, as well as the players who either are not yet 36 years old (Larry Fitzgerald) or those who did not play as 36 year-olds (Andre Johnson and Hines Ward).

Sure, the numbers for most of those players aren’t world-beating; however, there are some anomalies in there (Rice, for example, regressed in 1999 in part due to losing his quarterback, Steve Young, and having to play with a new signal-caller in Jeff Garcia. He would go on to record a 92/1211/7 line at age 40). Two of the players, Smith and Owens, actually improved at 37. Smith lost half his age-36 season to an injury, while Owens spent his age-36 season catching passes from Brian Brohm, Trent Edwards, and pre-Chan Gailey Ryan Fitzpatrick right here in Buffalo.

If Boldin were able to recreate his 2016 season in 2017, the Bills would be thrilled. Even if he were to regress to the point where he was only good for short-yardage grabs and red zone work, his addition would be a positive one. A 40-catch season where he averages 8-10 yards per grab and hauls in 5 touchdown passes would help the team on the field (it would be quite similar to Chris Hogan’s 2014 and 2015 seasons, actually), but more importantly, his influence off the field on the other receivers would be impossible to quantify.

If I were building a roster in Madden, there is no doubt in my mind that I’d sign the 24 year-old Green-Beckham and leave Boldin to rot in the free-agent pool. When I can control the players, character and leadership mean very little. However, with all that Boldin brings to the table, both from a production standpoint and a professional one, the choice is clear: If the Bills are going to add a veteran wide receiver, they’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Anquan Boldin.