It came down to this for Anquan Boldin: Find a way to get traded, or play out the last year in Arizona with a chip on your shoulder and Matt Leinart at quarterback. The Cardinals weren't going to extend his contract, which would expire after the 2010 season. That decision was final.
"One of the main reasons we really explored that area was because of the ascension of younger players, like Steve Breaston and Early Doucet," Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. "We really felt like those young guys stepped up and that there is still a lot more potential there. Even so, we weren't just going to give (Boldin) away in a trade. It had to be something acceptable."
A year ago, "something acceptable" was a first-round pick. Arizona was offered a second-rounder in the draft and it told anyone offering that wasn't enough. The Cardinals had just come off a Super Bowl appearance and they didn't want to part with one of their best players. Boldin seethed and publicly complained, which just made things worse for him because the annoyed Cardinals became even more girded to drive a hard bargain.
Fast forward to late last week: Baltimore offered up a third- and fourth-round draft pick for Boldin and the deal was done. Boldin's seven-year career in Arizona was over. Both sides are happy -- sort of. In the aftermath of arguably the biggest player move since free agency started on March 5, let's examine the Boldin trade from information provided by those who drove the trade: Graves and Boldin's agent, Tom Condon.
"First off, my emotions in trading Q are torn," Graves said. "He was one of the first players we brought in to define these Arizona Cardinals. He was tough, he was a team player. He was a great player and more than anything, he loved the game. He was a cornerstone and we became attached to him. In a lot of ways it's disappointing that the relationship has ended because he was a guy who fought for you and fought with you and, more than anything, he fought for his teammates."
He also fought with management/ownership. After teammate and fellow wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald received a four-year, $40 million extension before the 2009 season, Boldin wanted a raise into the same tax bracket. He was making nearly $7 million less annually but putting up similar production. Boldin's repeated ripping of the team for not re-doing his deal created a mutual rancor that proved unhealthy everywhere but on the field and in the locker room.
Last offseason, Boldin switched agents, from Drew Rosenhaus to Condon, and Condon told Boldin to stay quiet about his contract and simply play football in 2009. Something might be able to be worked out after the season, Condon told him. Might.
"I met with (team president) Michael Bidwill and (Coach) Ken Whisenhunt and with Rod, and they said they were going to need him for the '09 season," Condon said. "There was still a good deal of hard feelings on both sides with how things transpired in '08. For 2009, the goal was for a period of restoration of normalcy."
Condon didn't blame Rosenhaus or Boldin for their previous saber-rattling. Sometimes that approach is needed to make things happen. It hadn't worked, so he opted for a more settled approach.
Boldin obliged and, in the process, put together an 84-catch, 1,024-yard, four-touchdown season. Arizona won the NFC West for the second consecutive season and advanced to the NFC divisional playoffs before getting eliminated by eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans. Not long after, "they were willing ... to move the player," Condon said.
The Cardinals gave Condon and his partner, Ben Dogra, permission to speak to other teams about trade possibilities.
"Several teams had interest," Condon said. "Q had some strong desire to be on the East Coast, to be on a team that had the opportunity to compete for a championship and be someplace where he would be counted on to make a major contribution."
And to likely get a new contract or a contract extension.
Enter the Ravens, who had inquired about acquiring Boldin in 2009.
Added Graves: "If we didn't get what we wanted, we would have been more than happy to keep him on a one-year, workable contract."
Meanwhile, "Ben and I worked with Ozzie and got the three-year extension on top of his final year," Condon said.
The deal would add three years and nearly $25 million onto Boldin's deal with $10 million paid out this season.
"We were glad to work out things in that first year because there is some uncertainty for 2011," Condon said, referring to a possible work stoppage because of labor strife between owners and the players association.
"We didn't know it was going to get done," Condon said. "At one point (a day before things came together) it fell apart and then come back together again."
Graves said things never really fell apart but, "there were some negotiations that went back and forth." He went on, "I've done some deals with Ozzie Newsome before and I like to think I've learned some things from him. We weren't going to accept anything less than what we thought was the right value for a player that we liked. We think we did that."
The deal, which also sent the Ravens a fifth-round draft pick in 2010, was consummated around March 5 and became official around the same time the Cardinals, who already were dealing with quarterback Kurt Warner's retirement, were set to lose linebacker Karlos Dansby (Dolphins) and safety Antrel Rolle (Giants) in free agency.
The fourth-round pick Arizona acquired from Baltimore allowed the Cardinals to trade the fourth-round pick they already owned to the Jets for safety Kerry Rhodes, who will replace Rolle. The other picks, "fall in line with what we are trying to accomplish and that's to continue to build our team through the draft."
Condon and Graves said the process that led to Boldin being traded was in the works for an undefined "long time," and that both sides' "patience and continued dialogue," according to Graves, resulted in the deal getting done.
"When you're dealing with this, a half a day can seem like a lifetime but when it all came together, everyone was happy."