Let’s start by commending the 49ers for signing free-agent wide receiver Anquan Boldin to a two-year contract. Boldin is neither young nor fast, but he’s as tough a wide receiver as you’ll find, and a strong locker-room presence (as those of us who spend only limited time in locker rooms like to say).

Signing Boldin could also allow the Niners to tip over another domino. Now they can trade Michael Crabtree and wind up, instead, with Sammy Watkins.

NFL trades are never as unencumbered as writers like to pretend they are. You have to find a partner who (1) has what you want and (2) believes you are offering fair value in the swap. But they do happen, especially on draft day, and the talent-rich 49ers are in position to make this one happen.

Watkins, for those of you who have stuffed your ears full of clothes-dryer lint to block out Mel Kiper Jr., is an electrifying wide receiver out of Clemson. The NFL draft offers no sure things, but Watkins is as close as they come. He has moves, he has body control, he has hands and he has speed. Not DeSean Jackson, trail-of-scorched-turf type of speed, but enough deep-threat potential to change defensive coverages.

The most recent mock drafts I’ve seen (feel free to add your own cautionary note here) have Watkins going anywhere from No. 4 (to the Jaguars) to No. 9 (the Bills). Honestly, I have a hard time picturing him falling to Buffalo. For the 49ers to get Watkins, they’d probably have to trade up to 3 or 4, or maybe 5 or 6 if they wait to see how Day One plays out.

The teams drafting at 3, 4 and 5 – the Jags, Browns and Raiders – need lots of help at lots of positions. They are not One Player Away from contending. Perhaps one of them could be enticed to trade their top pick for the 49ers’ first-rounder (No. 30) plus Michael Crabtree, plus maybe a mid-round pick.

I’m not here to trash Crabtree. (And if I were, what could I say that Richard Sherman hasn’t printed on a banner and towed through the sky in a small plane?) Crabtree’s hands aren’t as GOAT-y as Jim Harbaugh says they are, but they are indeed very good. He is elusive after the catch and has become more reliable with each season. Colin Kaepernick loves to throw to him in critical situations, for better or worse.

The problem with Crabtree is that his skill set is too similar to Boldin’s. They are possession receivers. When the NFL changes its rulebook to allow an offense to use two footballs on third-and-8, they will be a viable tandem. Until then, they are non-complementary parts. Imagine, on the other hand, a starting threesome of Boldin, Watkins and tight end Vernon Davis. If he had those targets to throw to, Kaepernick might not feel obliged to scramble for yardage every third play in the postseason.

And all those positive qualities I ascribed to Crabtree? They’re the same ones that might get Cleveland or Buffalo to bite on a trade. The 49ers have a terrible recent record of drafting wide receivers, the most recent first-rounders (other than Crabtree) being A.J. Jenkins, Rashaun Woods and J.J. Stokes.

Make a move for Sammy Watkins, and those guys will be all but forgotten. As will Crabtree.

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  1. Kathy M

    What happy news to see you’ve started a blog! Your postgame coverage in the print edition is hands-down the best Niners content in the paper. I look forward to reading your blog too.

    March 7th, 2014 4:51 pm

  2. Rkirk

    I like the idea of trading up, but getting rid of Kaepernick’s security blanket would be a big no-no. I don’t think we need to re-hash Kap’s numbers pre-Crab and post-Crab last year and how significantly different they are. The truth is, Crabtree makes a young, developing QB comfortable and provides sure hands that Kap was unable to find during the season without him. In time, Kap will hopefully be able to branch out and utilize his other talents but until that day comes, why deal away the only for sure thing? I like the idea of trading up to get Watkins (or even Clowney?) and the Niners have 11 draft picks. Consolidating seems like a very reasonable option.

    March 7th, 2014 8:09 pm

  3. oldcoach

    Phil welcome to the blogasphere. I agree with you if the 49ers could get Watkins for Crabtree and a mid rd pick they should jump on it but I think there is absolutely no chance of that trade happening. Crabtree is in the last year of his contract so it wouldn’t be a trade but a rental. Crabtree has shown he is not a durable NFL player so there is a damn good chance the team trading for him would not be receiving a healthy for 16 games kind of guy. I believe the only way this trade happens is the 49ers along with MC throw in a 1st and 2nd rd pick. Phil would you make the trade if it included a 1st and 2nd rd pick?

    March 8th, 2014 10:56 am

  4. 77giantSFan

    Intriguing proposal, with merit, Phil. If trading up to land Watkins does not forfeit too much draft collateral, how does Kaep learn to play without his Crabtree security blanket? This season, facing the Panthers in the regular season without Crabtree was a nightmare for Kaepernick: his worst performance as a pro, easily, at home, no less! Going into Carolina with a healthy Crabtree resulted in a convincing road-game playoff win. Watkins would need time to learn our system and develop timing and trust with our QB. That initial learning curve could cost us home field advantage next season; we want to force Seattle to come to our new stadium, come playoff time.

    March 8th, 2014 10:59 am

  5. Phil Barber

    rhs, I probably would, considering we’re talking about the 30th pick in the first round and the 29th in the second round. And just to make it clear, I was suggesting Crabtree and the Niners’ first-rounder (along with a mid-round) for Watkins. But yeah, that might not be enough to get a deal done.

    March 8th, 2014 11:06 am

  6. Phil Barber

    77: A lot of people made a suggestion similar to yours: Don’t trade Crabtree because he is Kaepernick’s security blanket. It’s a legitimate point; the 49ers were way better with Crabs on the field last year. But I would offer two rebuttals.

    1) The silver lining of Crabtree’s injury was that Kaepernick seemed to develop a real rapport with Anqual Boldin and Vernon Davis in his absence. I think he could do the same with Watkins, and perhaps quickly.

    2) If the development of your quarterback is that dependent on one receiver, I’m not sure you are a Super Bowl contender.

    March 8th, 2014 11:13 am

  7. sisQsage

    Jenkins and Woods were obvious busts, but it is unfair/inaccurate to put Stokes in the same category. He had a nice 3-4 year run lining up opposite T.O. with like 60-70 catches and near 1000 yards. That’s not a bust. It’s not his fault the Niners overpaid on that draft day deal. As for Crabtree, no team will give up basically a lottery pick in a deep draft for a slow receiver who will always struggle against Sherman. Crab’s agent will be a nightmare again when that contract is up, another roadblock. Crab’s got too much baggage for a deal of that size to get done, not to mention an already bad Achilles. The way he cuts so hard in his routes I wouldn’t be surprised if he blows the other one out or reinjures the same one. He’ll never be considered a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, even if Kap keeps throwing to him like 3 times in a row in the SB when he is not close to being open.

    March 8th, 2014 12:11 pm

  8. Phil Barber

    sisQsage: Stokes had back-to-back seasons of 58-733-4 and 63-770-8 in 1997-98, but never more than 585 yards beyond that. He wasn’t a bust like Woods and Jenkins, but he was certainly a big disappointment. Your Crabtree comments are well taken.
    – Phil

    March 8th, 2014 12:28 pm

  9. hightop

    Crabtree our 1st and a low 2nd round for Watkins would be a steal,wont happen but nice idea.In reference to security blankets,big boys don’t carry them around…with Watkins and say Moncreif he wouldn’t need one anyway.

    March 8th, 2014 1:27 pm

  10. AngusinCanada


    Crabtree is a legit #1 receiver in this league already. His numbers when healthy are very, very good, on a team that doesn’t pass the ball.
    I’ll agree with you, to a degree, on the injury risk. I’d be more concerned about his foot that he injured coming out of college than his Achilles.

    March 8th, 2014 5:43 pm

  11. Streetglide

    All right Phil! Problem is that Crabs is younger and should have more years left than Anquan Boldin. But he’s not as good as Boldin. You might be onto something though. Wow! A grown-up blog at the P-D once again. Thats’ great!

    March 11th, 2014 7:10 am

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