As you may have heard, the Buffalo Bills added a big name today in veteran wideout Anquan Boldin. It’s hard to call any early-August signing a game-changer, especially when it’s a wide receiver who turns 37 years old in the middle of the upcoming season, but Boldin is a significant improvement to the roster.
He might not be able to bring what Jeremy Maclin could have brought to the team, but even at his relatively advanced age he caught 67 passes for 584 yards and eight touchdowns last year for the Detroit Lions. The reception total is 10 more than what Charles Clay had to lead the Bills last year, and the touchdown total doubles the four that Clay and Justin Hunter topped out with. Make no mistake, he can still bring it.
The biggest individual beneficiary from the signing is Tyrod Taylor, who shared a locker room with Boldin during his first two NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. In fact, Taylor’s first pass in the league was an 18-yard completion to Boldin at the end of Baltimore’s Week 14 loss to the San Diego Chargers in 2011.
While that might be a trivial connection, the fact that they played on the same team for two years isn’t. Taylor was never a first-team guy in Baltimore, so any chemistry from a timing perspective they might have built up is long gone, but the fact that Boldin is working with a quarterback he’s familiar with is huge. He knows how Taylor is as a teammate and how he approaches practices. I’ve never been huge on him as a passer, but the way Taylor approaches the game has always impressed me. For someone who’s seen it up close as Boldin has, it can only be a positive.
Another winner in this signing is Zay Jones. Entering training camp, the second-rounder was carrying the burden of huge expectations as he was slotted into the number two role behind Sammy Watkins. Despite a record-breaking college career, there are still doubts about how Jones’ game translates to the NFL, given his propensity to work off of screens and shorter routes at East Carolina. With the Boldin signing, Jones can move from the Z receiver role and line up in the slot, where those routes are more of the norm. His production might take a hit, but it’ll give him a chance to acclimate to the NFL without the expectations of a nominal starting receiver (to say nothing of how those expectations would rise if Watkins were to be injured again). It will also provide him with a pretty strong mentor to help him hone his craft.
So who loses here? Obviously, just about everybody on the wide receiver depth chart just moved down a notch. Brandon Tate immediately comes to mind as someone whose spot on the 53-man roster went from “safe” to “in severe peril” over the last few days, given the addition of Taiwan Jones as a competitor for the return job and the stellar play of Rod Streater over the first part of training camp. If he doesn’t re-establish himself as the primary return man or start showing things with the offense, he’s probably going to be a free agent when the New York Jets visit Orchard Park in a month.
Does the signing make the Bills a playoff contender? I wouldn’t go that far, given the issues in the secondary and the uncertainty around a new coaching staff. Is he worth a win or two? Possibly, especially if he can continue to fill the red zone target role he played so well in Detroit last year. I can say this much with confidence: if the Bills do make the playoffs, he’ll be a big part of it.