Michael Crabtree got off to a great start with 49ers fans because of the highlight reel he put together in college. He was a God at Texas Tech. College receivers are usually thought of as enjoying their great quarterbacks’ residue, but Crabtree was a Jordan on the field at Lubbock. No wonder Nike’s gourmet shoes and clothing line locked up Crabtree soon after he left the Red Raiders.
But that holdout, blech. MC Hammer (or was it just “Hammer” at the time?) was in the mix. The 49ers needed help, and Crabtree needed market value. Or, his own version of market value.
He finally signed. And he was productive. He didn’t wow anyone, but there were extenuating circumstances: one offensive coordinator per season; a quarterback who throws to the guy who’s clearly open, not the guy who can’t wait to fight for a pass and make something happen after the catch.
Crabtree finally looked like a high first round pick in 2012 and early 2013, when he was one of the best receivers in the postseason. Was it painful to see Colin Kaepernick keep going to Crabtree at the goal-line in the Super Bowl? Absolutely. I was there. It was horrible. Ravens fans chanting “Seven Nation Army.” Nightmarish.
But the future was right there for the taking, until #yungcrab tore his Achilles during OTAs. 2013 was destined to be a lost year.
Of all the 49ers who could get ginormous extensions, Crabtree is generally thought of as the guy who’ll be the toughest to please. None of their best players have any rational reason to remain loyal to the 49ers (besides Kaepernick, because Harbaugh loves the kid), but Crabtree’s rookie holdout and demeanor make him seem like the least likely candidate to accept a “discount.”
Not that anyone takes less than market value anymore. It’s a fun discussion topic, I suppose. If Crab’s agent reads this section due to BASG’s strong SEO, he’s going to laugh and laugh and …
I haven’t had a lot of experience around injured stars (besides Brian Wilson, who didn’t rejoin the Giants until the 2012 postseason when national cameras made returning a worthwhile activity in his mind), but Crabtree hasn’t used a pretty traumatic injury as an excuse to distance himself from the team. He’s always around, or at least it seems that way when we’re allowed in the 49ers’ locker room.
You might be wondering about the headline. Let me explain. Crabtree kills Patrick Peterson. We’re talking 14 receptions, 244 yards and four touchdowns in two games last year. Crab’s gotta be going crazy with an opportunity like this passing by. So I asked Greg Roman this question on Thursday:
WR Michael Crabtree has had a lot of success against the Cardinals in the past. How active is he in meeting and giving tips to receivers on not just this game, but game-to-game?
“Coach Crabtree, been doing a wonderful job. Just got to get him a whistle and a clipboard and there we have it. But no, Michael has been very good in meetings, out on the field on game-day and he’s working really hard. Looking good.”
Yeah, yeah. Coach says something good about a player they need to stay motivated. But Crabree really is a constant presence. And in talking to him last year, he kind of reminds me of Frank Gore — a football savant who can get pissy when things don’t go his way, but only when his team is losing. Gore and Crabtree are both great blockers. They both tend to win individual matchups more often than not. And neither player takes team losses all that well.
Gore has been around forever. Crabtree seemed like someone who might bail. That still might happen, especially if he doesn’t fully recover from the Achilles tear and the 49ers lose interest. But if he returns at full strength — and modern medicine hasn’t let us down all that often over the last few years — his 49ers career might last considerably longer than most would’ve figured back in ’09. And with Anquan Boldin facing constant double-teams, the best possible news came this week when Jim Harbaugh said Crabtree could be back by mid-November.