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Monday, March 8, 2010
Anquan Boldin didn't add up for Pats

By Mike Reiss

The thought was tantalizing, quarterback Tom Brady dropping back to pass, looking to one side and seeing Randy Moss, and then to the other and spotting Anquan Boldin.

Assuming Wes Welker later returned to full health from torn left knee ligaments, imagine the possibilities. Moss, Boldin and Welker. That's an explosive receiving trio, one still-lethal deep threat and two of the NFL's best in yards-after-the-catch.

Could anyone stop the New England Patriots?

Anquan Boldin
Receiver Anquan Boldin's contract situation likely is what kept the Patriots from closing a deal for him.

For a moment last Friday, there was reason to pause, envision that scenario, and consider the answer to the question.

The idea of Boldin-to-the-Patriots was picking up steam, with ESPN senior football analyst Chris Mortensen reporting that the team was involved in trade discussions with the Arizona Cardinals and would have traded for Boldin with the intention of letting him play out the final year of his contract.

Instead, Boldin went to the Baltimore Ravens for the reasonable price of one third- and one fourth-round draft choice, then signed a three-year contract extension worth a reported $25 million, with $10 million guaranteed.

So now, on the day the Patriots are hosting less-heralded receiver Josh Reed on a free-agent visit, some might ask, "Why not Boldin? Should the Patriots have been more aggressive?"

The point has been made that the team traded third- and fifth-round picks for underwhelming defensive end Derrick Burgess last year, and it would have cost only slightly more to acquire Boldin. So it should have been a slam dunk.

While Boldin would have represented a bold move -- and a solid case can be made for the receiver-needy Patriots to have closed the deal -- it's never that easy.

"In New England, a big consideration is always the locker room," noted former NFL front-office executive Mike Lombardi, now a regular on NFL Network who also writes for the Web site National Football Post.

In the end, locker-room considerations were probably the biggest factor that squashed the possibility of Boldin coming to the Patriots.

Had they traded for Boldin and signed him to such a rich extension, they risked creating friction with someone like Welker, who prior to his injury was making a strong case for a potential pay raise over the $1.9 million he is due to earn in 2010. A team has to be careful bringing in a player from the outside and paying him an average of $8 million per season when the NFL's most productive receiver over the last three years is already on the roster and scheduled to earn one-quarter of that.

More than Welker himself, signing any player from elsewhere and making him one of the highest paid players on the club before he plays a down in a Patriots uniform can send a mixed message to others. Players keep score in the locker room, and if the Patriots didn't have veterans like Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin at linebacker, they probably wouldn't have done it for Adalius Thomas in 2007, which is the only time they've really made such a signing in recent years.

That's probably why, assuming the reports are correct, the Patriots' interest in Boldin was tied to him playing out the final year of his contract.

And even if the team pulled off that trade, there would always be the question of whether Boldin himself was on board, because it makes little sense acquiring a player who would be unhappy. After all, part of the reason he wanted out of Arizona was for a lucrative contract extension.

So in the end, a lot of things would have had to fall into place for Boldin to wind up here in New England.

If they did, it could have been a coup for the Patriots, even when considering some of the questions surrounding Boldin when it comes to durability or that he turns 30 in October, which is a sign that he's closer to the end of his career than the start.

But it seemed like a long shot from the start.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.