Here are my three thoughts on Anquan Boldin's sudden decision to retire after his blink-of-an-eye stay with the Buffalo Bills:
1. No matter how you slice it, this is a massive punch to the gut. The Bills never saw it coming, and it leaves them in a terrible spot. They were counting on Boldin to make a major contribution, on and off the field.
As a 15-year veteran, he was expected to do what he did last season with the Detroit Lions – be productive in a sound, efficient way that relied far more on his experience and savvy than speed and quickness. He would run ultra-precise routes. He would make the very most of his highly reliable hands. And he would provide considerable leadership with his vast wisdom and tremendous character, embodying all of the qualities coach Sean McDermott wants from all of his players.
In short, Boldin would play and conduct himself as the Hall-of-Fame talent he is, even if he no longer is the dynamic athlete he once was.
That's what the Bills were expecting. That's why they were so persistent in getting him signed even after he left One Bills Drive on July 24 without a contract, even after there was plenty of back-and-forth in negotiations before Boldin finally decided to put pen to paper.
The signing was considered a coup, a late insertion of a missing piece to the puzzle. It wasn't necessarily viewed as something that would put the Bills over the hump in their efforts to snap a 17-year playoff drought, but it was considered a far better alternative to what they had at receiver: Sammy Watkins and bunch of question marks.
2. Which leads to this point: I respect, as the Bills do, Boldin's noble explanation for his shocking decision. I'm sure he's being absolutely sincere in saying, in a statement he released Sunday night and reiterating during an interview that Ross Tucker and I conducted with him on SiriusXM NFL Radio Monday morning, that he wants to pursue humanitarian and charitable work rather than continue to play football. I salute and admire what he has done on those counts and that he realizes how much more there is for him to do to give back to society. I believe him when he said, during the interview, that he was profoundly impacted by the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., and that it contributed to a decision he had been contemplating for the past couple of years.
It's hard for me to accept Boldin suddenly realizing only days after his first preseason game with his new team that he could be doing something far important with his life than running patterns and catching passes. It's hard for me to accept his abrupt change of heart wasn't impacted by a couple of abrupt moves the Bills made after Boldin's arrival. One, of course, was the trade that sent Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams, while the other was the trade that sent cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles.
All of a sudden, the Bills weren't the team Boldin thought he was joining, the team he said during his introductory news conference at training camp he was looking to help win a championship, the team that he said gave him a whole lot of encouragement based on all that he had seen during his visit to Orchard Park a couple of weeks earlier. He anticipated being a nice underneath complement to Watkins' defensive-stretching skills. Now, he was working outside, hardly his strength, and the rest of the remaining wideouts were, like him, slot guys.
Last Thursday night's preseason game at Philadelphia was an eye-opener as well.
One, Boldin didn't look the least bit comfortable in the outside role. Darby not only was with him step-for-step, but seemed to run Boldin's patterns better than Boldin. I have little doubt that Darby made Boldin's soon-to-be-37-year-old body feel even older.
Two, Tyrod Taylor's horrific showing couldn't have given Boldin much in the way of confidence. After watching his quarterback throw a pair of interceptions and nearly get picked off three times, seeing how late and wildly off-target he was on several passes, Bolding likely said to himself, "What the heck did I get myself into?"
I do think Boldin would end up doing more of what suits his abilities, but I also think it made sense for the coaches to see what he can do before Jordan Matthews returned from the chip fracture of his sternum and with the anticipation that rookie Zay Jones is eventually going to grow into himself as a pro.
3. There is simply no denying Boldin's retirement is a bad look for McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane. They can't help but feel some embarrassment, along with a little bit of betrayal.
Losing what they considered a vital asset two weeks after acquiring it makes the coach and the GM, hired with the firm belief they would bring far more organization and competence to a club that didn't have enough of either under Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley, look like the rookies they are.
Unpopular as it might have been with many fans, the fact the Bills made the Watkins trade after Boldin's signing at least gave the appearance they still had a semblance of solid receiver infrastructure. It gave the appearance that, yes, they were taking a long-term approach, but they were also simultaneously adding a solution to help keep them competitive in the short term.
That was impressive.
Where they find themselves now isn't.