This is the first article of a two part series about the possibility of the Arizona Cardinals trading Anquan Boldin. During this two part edition we'll cover why the Cardinals should or shouldn't trade Boldin, what the return should be, when a trade will go down and finally look at the teams who will be in the running for his services. Before we get started, we should say that everything you're about to read is an opinion and not based on any inside information and the person pounding away at this keyboard doesn't have the name "Rod Graves" on the door so take this for what it is, a means to create conversation. With all that being said.....
The Arizona Cardinals find themselves at a fork in the road and it's quite possible that they could be praised or criticized no matter which decision they make. On one hand they have a disgruntled Pro Bowl player under a very reasonable contract for two more seasons who has zero leverage. They could simply stand their ground, take no action and keep a productive player who at worst is a public nuisance every time someone sticks a microphone in his face. On the other hand, they could trade a player with tremendous talent who has helped turn the franchise around for a couple of picks with the hopes of getting players of similar talents in the draft. The difficulty in this decision is that the results could blow up their face either way and given the facts known at this time, there is no clear cut ‘right' or ‘wrong' answer. So what are they to do? Let's look at this from all sides....
- Why the Cardinals are better off trading Boldin? Boldin wants to be paid like a top tier, #1 receiver and all he has to do is look across the locker room to find the contract he'd love to have. Larry Fitzgerald averages $10 million per season and Boldin is looking for a yearly average somewhere in that range. While it is possible to have two receivers making top dollar, building a team around two receivers is not what Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm had in mind when they came to Arizona. Trading Boldin would give Whiz the flexibility to improve the two weakest areas of this squad, the running game and the defense in the first round while addressing other areas in the later rounds. While it's true that losing Boldin would hurt the passing game, it's also worth remembering the depth at receiver and how well the offense performed in the five games that Q missed during the 2008 season (including the playoffs). The Cardinals were 4-1 in those games and the offense averaged 29 points per game, including a playoff high 33 points against the Carolina Panthers. With Boldin out of the line up the running game also improved averaging 94.6 yards per game which was just over 20 yards better than their regular season average. Now we're not saying that this team is better off with Boldin but the argument that the offense would fall apart without him doesn't quite hold water either. It's also worth mentioning where exactly Boldin is in his career and while we won't go as far as to suggest that he's on the decline, it's also probably safe to say at the age of 28, his best days are not in front of him. While it's still very likely that Boldin is capable of producing Pro Bowl caliber seasons for the next three to five seasons, his physical style of play limits his ability to stay healthy for a full season (has only played 16 games twice in five seasons and hasn't done it since 2006) and it's also possible that his style of play will cause his production to drop off quicker than other receivers of the same level of ability. The bottom line points seems to be that even though the Cardinals are not a better team without Boldin, they might have a brighter future for a longer period of time given the picks that they'll receive for him.
- Why the Cardinals are better off keeping Boldin? The case for Boldin is a bit simpler than the case against. To start, Boldin is better than anyone who will try to fill his shoes and he's completes the best one-two receiving punch that the NFL has to offer. Even though Steve Breaston had a breakout season, there is no guarantee that he's ready or for that matter will ever be as good a receiver as Boldin. He's undoubtedly a top ten, if not top five or six, receiver in this league and this offense is built to throw the ball all over the field. Without Q the offense would have to be adjusted and any adjustment would most likely be a move away from Kurt Warner's primary strength. Also, outside of having an outspoken, disgruntled player the team has zero motivation to actually trade Boldin. He agreed to a contract and should be expected to fulfill the deal that he signed. Not only is Boldin a fantastic player but given his very manageable salary, he just might be the receiver in the league in terms of bang per buck. The bottom line on keeping Boldin is that the chances of the Cardinals returning to the playoffs in 2009 and replicating the success that they had this past January are better with Boldin that without.
- If they did trade him, what should the return be? It's been well reported the Cardinals are expecting at least a first and a third round pick in return and just to reiterate, that's the bottom line. From there it could go up to include other later round picks or picks in the 2010 draft. There will always be rumors of player for player trades but those are nearly impossible to predict and a very rare occurrence in the NFL. I wouldn't rule out a ‘throw-in' type of player to balance out a trade but some of the suggestions about Boldin for Terrell Suggs or Boldin for Julius Peppers sound a little far fetched. The best case scenario for the Cardinals would be to get more than one team involved in the bidding because that's where the extra picks will get thrown in to sweeten the deal. While it's unlikely to get a "Roy Williams-type" of return, with a couple of teams bidding against each other you just never know.
- If he is traded, when will it happen? As far as I'm concerned as soon as the first round of the draft is completed we'll know if Boldin will be in a Cardinals uniform for the 2009 season. The Cardinals aren't going to take anything less than a first and a third so just about any combination of second to seventh round picks won't be able to get the job done. The Cardinals also wouldn't trade Boldin this offseason for picks solely in the 2010 draft simply because those picks do nothing to improve this year's team, which has every intention of making a playoff run again. Assuming that the Steelers aren't in the running for Boldin (which is an awfully safe bet) if he's is still a Cardinal when they make their pick at 31, he'll be a Cardinal for the upcoming season.
As you can see the Cardinals face an impossible decision that quite frankly they'll most likely get criticized by some and praised by others regardless of their course of action. For now, I think the Cardinals are handling this the right way in that they're basically straddling the fence and talking out of both sides of their mouth. In one breath, he's a part of the future and would love to extend him so that he's part of the long term future of this franchise. In the next breath, but we're willing to listen to anyone who calls with an offer. So while they're not ‘actively shopping' the one time face of the franchise, they're making it known publicly that he's on the market at the right price. We should know the outcome of this buzz kill in eight days but for now we'll just sit on our hands and wait it out. Which side of the fence do you stand on? Do you agree that they're playing their cards right or should they just pay him or trade him?