Monday, April 20, 2009

Divides That Conquer

A quick thought problem for today, while I grease up the gears for a week of draft thoughts, but it’s related if only because it’s an issue that will involve draft picks if it sees resolution. In what is a rarity in a league geared against stars changing teams, we currently have a clear title contender that is one piece away (the Giants, who need a WR) met with two bright options to fill that need on the trading block. Behind door one is Anquan Boldin, who, though having been a good soldier throughout the Cardinals’ astounding trip to the Super Bowl, has made it clear that he’s not happy with the status quo in Arizona. Behind door two is Braylon Edwards, who unquestionably made the superstar leap in year three only to once again raise doubts as to just how good he is in year four. Assuming that the team will make a move on one of these two (and it should, seeing as both are proven commodities), the question remains which one will prove the best investment. The philosophical questions posed by either choice are as good a reflection of old school versus new school football thought as you’ll find. This isn’t a commentary on one being clearly better; rather, it’s acknowledging the different roles that these men will have played as they enter a hypothetical role as the center of the NY Giants passing attack.

In the case of Boldin, you have the old school ideal of quiet, consistent performance for a successful team. Furthermore, there is no questioning Boldin’s toughness, as his return from a potentially devastating injury was heroic. Boldin combines good speed with underrated size and a willingness to make the ugly catches that most wideouts avoid like the plague. In short, he does what he’s asked on the field. Still, there have to be some nagging doubts about a man whose entire career has been flanked by that of the best receiver in football, Larry Fitzgerald. This may be unfair, but Boldin has, up to this point, been the single best number two receiver in football and nothing more. Placing an entire offense on him, while representing the sort of “paid your dues” logic that teams love, would represent a dramatic shift in roles for a receiver that has been surrounded by safe, supportive pieces up to this point.

The total reversal of this situation with Edwards makes the comparison interesting. Edwards has been a polarizing, often abrasive figure for his entire stay in Cleveland. His meteoric rise to greatness in year three was only matched by his fall to mediocrity in year four, and a reputation for having stone hands is becoming less of an assumption with every bad game. Still, no matter what else can be said, Edwards has always, undoubtedly been the focus of a Cleveland offense that made magic with a now obviously mediocre starter under center. The responsibility for the success of the unit fell on Edwards, and it is impossible to say that he failed to meet expectations last year without also acknowledging that he was more responsible than anyone for the stunning success of two years ago. Also, having spent an entire career with journeymen and throwaways under center, and with only an even worse malcontent as the second receiving option, Edwards has not had the support system that Boldin has enjoyed.

Where Boldin represents questions of prime time readiness surrounding unquestionable talent, Edwards represents questions regarding the ability for proven talent to emerge and perform at a level that we already know he can reach. To say that one is any more certain to succeed with a new offense than the other is to ignore one half of the expectations/ability equation. As has become an annoying and recurring theme of this offseason, I’m not sure I have any answers either. Maybe that’s why Giants GM Jerry Reese is making this a cost issue. The divide between old and new school is easier to deal with if you don’t have to cross it.


Rolling said...

Anquan Boldin stats in his rookie year (without Larry Fitzgerald): 101 rec, 1377 yds (13.6 YPC), 8 TD's. That was with Jeff Blake and Luke McCown throwing the ball and Bryan Gilmore and Bryant Johnson as the other receivers. I'm pretty sure that shows he can carry the load when he isn't surrounded by premium talent.

lunchhour_ambition said...

That season started with a 217-yard game, so I would argue that after that, most teams viewed him as the primary threat as well. Fitzgerald's presence has likely cost him as many yards by being the main target as it has gained him yards by netting Boldin more favorable coverages. I do disagree with the assessment that Jeff Blake wasn't an elite talent. He made the Bengals semi-dangerous, which was a colossal feat at the time. After the Blake era, (which was sandwiched by the Klingler and Smith eras, I believe) Pickens and Scott never had great years again. If I recall, the promise of those Bengals teams helped get funding for their new stadium, as well. Blake went to NO, when injury brought Aaron Brooks into fleeting stardom. If this site ever wanted to start a "What Dreams We Once Had," series, I nominate Blake as the initial entry.