The mailbox filled up with a slew of Anquan Boldin inquiries after word came out of Arizona on Wednesday night that the Cardinals are entertaining offers for the Pro Bowl wide receiver. It's been all wide receiver, all the time so here we go. We'll do one more Q&A on Friday so get your questions in for the final one of the week.
Q: I know, I know. The Bears already made their blockbuster move for this decade. But let's just look into this thing for one second. What could the Bears possibly package up to get Anquan Boldin? Any package has to include the second-round pick but what after that? How about a player? Say, the Bears' second-round pick and Nathan Vasher? Or how about Brian Urlacher?
James T., Charleston, Ill.
A: It certainly looks like Boldin can pack his bags and prepare for an exit from the Valley of the Sun. The Cardinals are reportedly seeking a first- and third-round picks in exchange for Boldin. The important thing to note, right off the bat, is the Cardinals want picks in exchange for him. One source, with knowledge of the situation, says that he believes Arizona will ultimately accept a first-round pick and something significantly less than a third rounder.
``I think they want to get rid of the headache,'' the source said.
The headache is Boldin and agent Drew Rosenhaus crusading for a new contract while Boldin has two years remaining on his current deal. Boldin is going to need a big, new deal from his new team. The thing that needs to be investigated is how good Boldin is right now and how long he will remain at his current level. His yards per catch has dropped the last two seasons. Arizona was 3-1 in regular-season games Boldin missed. They rolled in the playoffs after he missed most of the Atlanta game (after scoring a touchdown) and the entire Carolina game. The Cardinals probably believe they can be just as successful without him.
Boldin doesn't run a lot of traditional routes on the route tree. He runs a lot of drag routes, gets the ball in open space and then does his thing. Opposite Larry Fitzgerald, it's made the Arizona offense a machine. Ask Boldin to do something else, he might become a pretty ordinary possession receiver. Hey, even that would make him the best receiver on the Bears' roster.
KC Joyner had an interesting analysis of Boldin vs. Fitzgerald in the New York Times' blog--The Fifth Down.
What I found is that while their overall yards per attempt totals (YPA) were equal and their vertical YPA quite similar, there was one area in which Fitzgerald was miles ahead of Boldin - YPA when facing tough cornerbacks. When Fitz faced an average or good corner in 2007 (good being defined as allowing a YPA equal to or less than 7.0 yards, average being between 7-9 yards), he posted a YPA of 8.7. Boldin, on the other hand, gained only 6.3 YPA. To put those in perspective, if a receiver posts an overall YPA of 8.7, he will typically rank in the top third of the league, while a YPA of 6.3 would typically rank in the bottom 10.
The analysis also showed that Boldin put up more yards when facing non-cornerbacks (i.e. linebackers, safeties, when uncovered under a zone defense, etc.) than he did when facing cornerbacks, and Fitzgerald was the exact opposite. Add the two findings together and it shows that Fitzgerald is a matchup-buster and Boldin isn't.
I don't say that to knock Boldin. He is a dominant possession receiver, and the Cardinals are lucky to have him, but rather to help explain why Arizona may not be ponying up the big dollars for him.
Interesting. Now, let's get back to what you proposed, and most people have been suggesting the Bears deal Vasher straight out of the doghouse and to another team's roster. Vasher has not performed well for two seasons, he's earned $15 million while playing in 12 games over the last two years. Don't you imagine other teams are aware of this? Let's look at the Cardinals' roster. Arizona has more depth at cornerback than anywhere else but, well, wide receiver.
The Cardinals signed Bryant McFadden in free agency to be a starter opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who they feel showed enough as a rookie starter for half of 2008 to be sure he has Pro Bowls in his future. That moves 2008 starter Rod Hood to the nickel role most likely. That's where veteran Ralph Brown starred in the postseason, making interceptions vs. Atlanta and Carolina. Simply put, the Cardinals have no need for a cornerback.
Could Arizona use Urlacher? No question. He could probably do well in their 4-3/3-4 hybrid. Right now, Gerald Hayes is the starting middle linebacker in the 4-3 and he and Karlos Dansby both man the inside in the 3-4. Dansby, tagged for the second straight year, is angling for big bucks. The Cardinals need to figure out a way to pay him. Urlacher is already making big bucks. And, when you boil it all down, do the Bears deal Urlacher for a wide receiver who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds? We think not.
Q: I think it's time to reevaluate that 2006 draft, in particular the second-round picks, Devin Hester and Danieal Manning. I think Jerry Angelo has gotten a pass with everyone pointing to Hester's success in returns and emerging wide receiver status. And Manning is supposed to be this great athlete. But I disagree. I think Hester's days as a great returner are over and the Bears will be lucky if he can learn how to run a route correctly. Manning's best position is nickel and that's a waste of all that raw athletic ability. But he just doesn't seem to have the football smarts to do anything but kill the Bears when lined up at free safety. And his return contributions will diminish as teams game plan him and he accumulates the hits. It happens to all return guys. Personally, I am tired of using high picks on "projects." What do you think?
Bob K., Chicago
A: Well, we can close the book on the 2005 draft, that's for sure. After the trade of Kyle Orton to the Denver Broncos, the Bears do not have a single player remaining from the '05 draft. The '06 draft certainly does not look quite as glamorous as it did in say, January 2007, when the Bears were on the way to the Super Bowl and they could point to their rookie class as one of the reasons why. Five players remain on the roster from that draft. I'm not going to write off Hester at this point. You make some interesting points about his ability as a return man and everyone is waiting to see what he does on punt returns this season. The draft as a whole, however, hasn't done a whole lot. Manning is destined to be the nickel back this season and clubs are always going to aim higher with their second-round pick than filling the nickel role. Hester remains a project, although from where he was selected in the second half of the second round, I think that was a good pick then and it looks even better now. There are no sure things at that point in the draft so I think everything is going to have an element of "project" to it at that point. More bothersome, to me, is the number of drafts the Bears have had consecutively without getting real impact players. Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, a third-round pick that season, has landed on injured reserve for three consecutive seasons. Linebacker Jamar Williams remains blocked. The hope is new line coach Rod Marinelli can get the flux capacitor in his De Lorean working to travel back in time and locate Anderson. After Hester, the best pick in this draft was the seventh rounder the Bears shipped the Miami Dolphins for Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Q: We've heard almost nothing about negotiations between the players and the owners since DeMaurice Smith was elected Executive Director of the NFL Players Association. Are they even negotiating yet? If not, why not? Where's the sense of urgency? Surely Smith has his feet underneath him enough by now to at least sit down and begin.
Tom S., Chicago
A: Smith and commissioner Roger Goodell have had a one-hour meeting but no negotiations have started. Let's give him a little time to get prepped for what is going to be a huge task. He has not officially been on the job for three weeks yet. Peter King recently had a long sitdown with Smith and shares some of it right here. I'd expect preliminary talks to take place at some point this spring. Both sides are best served by reaching a resolution but it's not one that will be easy to get done.
Q: My question involves Connor Barwin, the high motor DE/OLB from Cincinnati. He really wowed everyone at the combine, leading all defensive ends in almost every category, including an amazing 4.56 40 which he somehow improved on at his campus workout. Barwin is listed at 6-4, 256 pounds which makes him very similar to the Bears' Alex Brown who is listed at 6-3, 260. The Bears need an upgrade at defensive end, and considering Barwin is the same size but decidedly more athletic than Brown wouldn't he be a good fit if he's still available in the second round? Lovie Smith seems to value speed in his defensive scheme and Barwin seems about as fast as one can find at this position.
Chris F., Homer Glen, IL
A: Barwin is an interesting guy and there is a decent chance he will be available when the Bears choose at No. 49. He may be more athletic than Brown but keep in mind Brown is one of the better two-way right ends in the league. Barwin is very raw. He was moved from tight end to defensive end at this time last year at Cincinnati. I think most teams looking at him right now are probably projecting him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The Bears will need to do something at end but that might have to wait until next year. The aforementioned Anderson and Adewale Ogunleye are both entering the final year of their contracts. Ditto for Israel Idonije, who is moving back outside to end this season.
Thanks for all of the participation and thanks as always for reading.