PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Sammy Watkins and the Buffalo Bills receivers aren’t as young and untested now that Anquan Boldin is with the group.
Boldin returns for a 15th NFL season after signing a contract with the Bills on Monday. The move provides the team leadership, production and an instant boost in credibility to what had been a patchwork position. The 36-year-old is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, was the NFL’s 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner and ranks in the top 25 among several career categories.
“The great thing about Anquan is what he brings on the field and off the field,” first-time general manager Brandon Beane said. “I think our receiving room is fairly young still. And I think not only is he going to help those guys show what a pro’s pro and what it takes on the field (but also) in the meeting rooms, training room.”
It wasn’t lost on Beane that Boldin showed he’s still capable of making an impact after spending last season with Detroit , where he had 67 catches for 584 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games.
“Even if his speed is not what it was, and you know he was never a burner, but he still knows how to win,” Beane said. “Contested balls? He comes down with his fair share and then some.”
The Bills spent the past month courting Boldin. He visited the team’s facility two weeks ago. The contract terms were completed late last week, with the only holdup involving Boldin determining whether Buffalo could serve as a good fit for him and his family, Beane said.
Boldin, who makes his offseason home in Florida, arrived at the Bills training camp facility on Monday, and scheduled to take part in his first practice on Tuesday.
Though it’s unlikely he’ll play in Buffalo’s preseason opener against Minnesota on Thursday, Boldin was listed as the top backup behind Watkins on the Bills depth chart.
He joins a team in transition at the receiver position. Watkins is the only regular who returns from last season. And the 2014 first-round draft pick’s future in Buffalo is uncertain after the Bills declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract.
Watkins fully supported Buffalo’s bid to sign Boldin, when asked about the possibility at the start of training camp on July 27.
“If we get someone like that, that’d definitely be somebody I can learn from and the whole room can learn from,” Watkins said.
The roster spots behind Watkins remain up for grabs after the Bills lost Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin to free agency this past spring. Buffalo previously addressed its needs at receiver by drafting East Carolina product Zay Jones in the second round and also signing a number of not entirely proven free agents, including Andre Holmes, Philly Brown and Rod Streater.
Boldin’s 1,076 catches for 13,779 yards overall rank third among players since his NFL offensive rookie of the year season in 2003 with Arizona. He played seven seasons with the Cardinals and also had two three-year stints in Baltimore and San Francisco.
Overall, he ranks ninth on the NFL career list in catches, 14th in yards receiving and is tied for 23rd with 82 touchdowns receiving.
Boldin also has ties to Bills starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They spent the 2010-12 seasons together in Baltimore, when Taylor served as Joe Flacco’s backup.
Boldin caught Taylor’s first NFL pass attempt, an 18-yard reception on the final play of a 34-14 loss to San Diego in December 2011.
“That’s a bonus,” Beane said of Boldin’s connection with Taylor. “He caught Tyrod’s first pass. So hopefully we can get that reconnection going.”
To make room on the roster, Buffalo designated tight end Keith Towbridge as waived/injured after he injured his right foot in practice on Friday.