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March 12, 2013 at 9:01 AM

Harvin, Boldin and the suddenly nuclear NFC West arms race

Bold Seahawks make statement by adding Percy Harvin
By Jerry Brewer | The Seattle Times

49ers acquire Anquan Boldin from Baltimore
By Matt Barrows | The Sacramento Bee

The arms race that is underway in the NFC West is no longer just literal.

It’s about more than just two teams with rising young quarterbacks, and on Monday, it was not about the men who throw the ball, but the ones who catch it. And run it. And score it.

The Seahawks made the boldest move of general manager John Schneider’s tenure, reaching an agreement to acquire Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings. Within hours, news broke of the 49ers reaching an agreement to acquire receiver Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens.

The two moves had nothing to do with each other, but they had everything to do with each other as they raised the stakes on what is one of the league’s emerging rivalries. What made the acquisitions most fascinating is how differently two teams separated by half a game in the standings last season addressed the same position.

The Seahawks bet big, the 49ers got a bargain. The Seahawks doubled-down in terms of Harvin’s new contract and the draft-day ransom they sent to Minnesota. San Francisco got a steal, acquiring an uncompromisingly competitive receiver who was a key part of Baltimore’s Super Bowl run for a sixth-round pick.

The two moves reflected the two very different points these franchises are at right now. The Seahawks are the up-and-comers, the team adding to the nucleus of young talent they have assembled over the previous three years and hoping Harvin will be the piece that puts the team over the top.

The 49ers are the reigning heavyweights of the division, a team that is both accomplished and expensive and now looking for cost-efficient improvements. So while Seattle is spending big to add a player it believes is just coming into his prime, the 49ers are hoping to wring another productive year out of Boldin.

That’s not a criticism of San Francisco’s approach. Seattle is going to find itself in a similar position when its talented young players – All-Pros like safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman and rising quarterback Russell Wilson – need new contracts that will eat up Seattle’s spending room.

The 49ers defense is one of the league’s very best, but it is also the league’s most expensive. So when a player like safety Dashon Goldson enters free agency, there’s a very real question of whether the 49ers will keep him not because there’s any question about the caliber of his play, but the reality that the NFL’s salary cap prevents a great team like San Francisco from paying everyone that contributes to that success their true market value.

So as San Francisco faces the possibility of losing Goldson, there are rumors of the 49ers’ interest in Ed Reed. That doesn’t mean the 49ers believe Reed is better, but that at the age of 34, he’s an acceptable and more affordable replacement should Goldson leave.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks paid top-of-the-line price for a player they believe can be a key component for years to come in an offense that will increasingly evolve around its young quarterback.

There were plenty of reasons that Seattle could have talked itself out of trading for Harvin from the contract that could make him one of the game’s seven highest-paid receivers to the three draft picks it took to acquire him to the fact that Harvin clashed with both head coaches he played for in Minnesota.

But instead, Seattle looked at Harvin’s availability as an opportunity. A chance to take the No. 25 pick in the draft – a spot where the Seahawks would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could start – package it with a future pick and come away with a player they believe will be a difference maker.

And in this division – which is becoming seen as one of the league’s most competitive – that opportunity was enough for Seahawks general manager John Schneider to make the deal.

| Topics: 49ers, anquan boldin, percy harvin

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