Keeping Score

Baltimore Breakup: The Brutal Business of the NFL

The Baltimore Ravens -- Super Bowl champs -- trade wide receiver Anquan Boldin to save salary cap space.

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Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Anquan Boldin during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Congratulations, Joe Flacco. As a reward for your MVP performance in the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens gave you a six-year, $120.6 million contract; $52 million of that windfall is guaranteed.

Now, go out and repeat your title-winning effort, without your top-receiver.

Every NFL off-season serves as a stark reminder: thanks to the salary cap, the economics of the football are brutal. Football players are athletic assets that depreciate faster than athletes in other sports, so NFL teams have absolutely no incentive to pay up for past performance. (Baseball teams tend to ignore depreciation; see Rodriguez, Alex and Pujols, Albert)  The Ravens asked receiver Anquan Boldin, who led the team with 65 catches last season for 921 yards, to restructure his contract to save the team cap space. Boldin refused.

“When I signed with the Ravens, I signed for four years,” Boldin told USA TODAY Sports.  “With me, it’s all about principles. At no point, no matter how well I played, would I come back to the table and say, ‘I need more money.’

(MORE: The Wonderful Weirdness of Super Bowl XLVII)

“The contract that I signed was the contract that I intended to play out.”

The result: Boldin, who is currently in Africa on a humanitarian mission, was shipped to San Francisco for a sixth round draft choice. The Ravens basically gave him away. So Jim Harbaugh’s 49er offense will receive an upgrade, while his brother John picks up the pieces back east. Boldin’s Baltimore teammate at wide receiver, Torrey Smith, vented on Twitter.

Not that long ago, the NFC West was the laughingstock of football. Remember when Seattle won the division with a 7-9 record back in the 2010 season? This year, if not for Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s ill-timed icing of Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant, San Francisco and Seattle would have met in the NFC championship game. The rivalry just turned up a notch; on the same day the Ravens acquired Boldin, Seattle fetched Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin for a first round pick and other draft considerations. It was Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson’s turn to be aggrieved.

Things change fast in the NFL. Just a few short weeks ago, Boldin and Flacco were sitting in the joyous Baltimore locker room after the Super Bowl. Boldin, who finished the game with six catches, 104 yards and a touchdown, was practically serenading his QB.  “Joey Flac,” Boldin said as Flacco smiled sheepishly. “Super Bowl winner, Joey Flac.”

It was a nice moment. Who knew it would end so fast?

(MORE: What If There Were No Super Bowl?)