The 49ers’ most prolific receiver the last three seasons will join the Detroit Lions.
Anquan Boldin will sign a one-year deal with the Lions, ESPN was first to report Tuesday. Boldin, 35, led the 49ers in catches and receiving yards every season since being acquired in a trade from Baltimore three years ago, and he won the NFL’s Man of the Year award in February.
Boldin arrived in Santa Clara in 2013 just as then-top receiver Michael Crabtree suffered an Achilles’ tear. Boldin instantly had chemistry with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and became his favorite target. He had 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay in their first game together.
Boldin had 3,030 receiving yards over the last three seasons and is 17th on the NFL’s career list with 13,195 receiving yards. Among current 49ers receivers, Torrey Smith is next on the list with 4,254 yards, including a career-low 663 yards last season.
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The 49ers were wary of Boldin’s age and declining speed, and they reasoned it would be more difficult to develop young receivers with a veteran like Boldin on the field.
Smith is the only wideout on the roster with significant playing experience. He played with Boldin in Baltimore, and Boldin helped coax him to the 49ers last year during free agency.
Smith, Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington took most of the first-string repetitions at receiver during spring practices. Eric Rogers, Dres Anderson and draft pick Aaron Burbridge are among the other young players vying for roster spots this summer.
On the first offensive play against Detroit last season, Boldin became the 13th player in NFL history with 1,000 receptions. He visited Detroit, and the Lions’ head coach, Jim Caldwell, was Boldin’s offensive coordinator in Baltimore.
“There’s a special kind of respect for that guy,” Caldwell said before the 49ers and Lions played last year. “And we make sure our guys know exactly what they’re up against when you line up across from him.”