The Ravens' Anquan Boldin has shown durability and toughness in his career. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are months away from meeting on the football field, but already the NFC West rivals are playing “Can You Top This?”
Last season, the rivalry between the teams reached new heights as the 49ers held off Seattle’s late-season charge and won a second straight division title. Coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll have a history as unfriendly rivals, dating to their time in the Pac-12 as head coaches, and players from the teams traded shots before and after their two meetings in 2012, in which the 49ers won the first and the ’Hawks won the second.
By the end of the season, the 49ers and Seahawks had established themselves not only as the best teams in their division, but as among the elite in the NFL. The emergence of quarterback Russell Wilson, the presence of Marshawn Lynch at running back and a top-flight defense put Seattle in great position to challenge the 49ers for the division again in 2013.
On Monday, both teams took dramatic steps to improve themselves for 2013. First, reports surfaced that Seattle had acquired wide receiver Percy Harvin from the Vikings. Just hours later, it was reported the 49ers had traded for wide receiver Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens.
Both moves can be officially announced Tuesday after 1 p.m. (Pacific) when the NFL’s trading and free agency periods can officially kick off.
Though coaches and executives with the 49ers and Seahawks weren’t able to discuss the moves until late Tuesday, NFL watchers quickly weighed in on the dueling moves.
In reviewing the quick, back-to-back punches thrown by the NFC West rivals Monday, NFL.com analysts Jason Smith, Charley Casserly and Adam Rank gave the edge to Seattle.
“At this point, Seattle has eclipsed San Francisco as NFC West favorite for 2013,” wrote Smith. Added Casserly: “I will give this one to Seattle.” Wrote Rank: “I like the move for the 49ers, but the Seahawks win the day, no doubt.”
Two other analysts for NFL.com weren’t so quick to give the Seahawks the edge, especially given the fact that Seattle paid a high price to land Harvin in a long-term deal (three picks, including a first-rounder) while the Niners gave up just a sixth-round pick for a one-year deal for Boldin. Though Harvin is younger and much more of a deep threat, he was often injured and unhappy in Minnesota and there’s no guarantee he’ll be content with a new team. Boldin is 32, more of a possession receiver, has been durable and physical and is considered a good teammate and leader.
Analyst Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com writes that the 49ers gave up much less for a player who proved his value with a run of great performances in the postseason when he helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl.
“The Seahawks will pick up a dynamic player, yes, but the 49ers give up a whole lot less to get maybe the toughest receiver in the league,” she wrote. “While Boldin doesn’t have Harvin’s youth, he doesn’t have his injury history, either.”
Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com agreed, in that Boldin’s acquisition is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Niners, “a better version” of the Randy Moss signing a year ago.
Meanwhile, neither team is done. Expect both the Niners and Seahawks to continue trying to top one another throughout the offseason.
Reports indicate the 49ers may also be in the hunt for free-agent cornerback Sean Smith of the Dolphins and Ravens veteran safety Ed Reed.
Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News sees the arms race as yet another indication that the NFC West is becoming one of the best divisions in the NFL. Arizona and St. Louis also showed improvement last season and will no doubt continue that trend this offseason to make it an even stronger division in 2013.
“As the teams (San Francisco and Seattle) continue to be aggressive about offense in the offseason, it’s a reminder that the division is simply the best in the NFL,” wrote Iyer, noting how far the division has come since 2010 when Seattle won with a 7-9 record.