Michael Crabtree is easily the top remaining unsigned free agent. He’s a former No. 10 overall pick, he caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012, and even his bad seasons weren’t that horrible. His worst season was undoubtedly 2014, when he had 698 yards, four touchdowns, several drops, and his lowest yards per game (43.6) and yards per catch (10.3) averages.
But the market has soured on Crabtree. The only offer he’s (reportedly) received being a one-year, $2.5 million deal with Miami with incentives that could take Crabtree’s overall earnings to $3.5 million. Taking that, and Crabtree’s age (27) into account, would it be so crazy for the 49ers to come through with a little more money on a one-year offer of their own?
We know the reasons not to do this.
1. Crabtree’s reputation as a DIVA
Which I think is totally overblown, by the way. Crabtree held out as a rookie, but since then it’s not like he’s been a locker room cancer. When he complained during the 2014 season that he’s being used like a No. 3 receiver, he was clearly frustrated. So was just about everyone in that locker room at the time, particularly on the offensive side.
By and large, Crabtree appears to be a good teammate. He gave sweatsuits and Jordans to all of the skill position guys before the Super Bowl. I’ve never seen Colin Kaepernick or Anquan Boldin smile more than the time when all three were at the podium after Crabtree’s first game back in 2013. Sure, they may have been laughing at Crabtree, but any kind of comic relief is a good thing in a sport where concussions and broken bones are the norm.
Can Crabtree get a little cranky? Sure. Does he think he’s the best receiver in the world when that most certainly is not the case? Probably. But most receivers aren’t pillars of the community who never complain, like Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith. Crabtree may have diva tendencies, but they are extremely mild.
2. Compensatory picks
Anyone else getting a little bit tired of hearing about this? Trent Baalke wants to finish each free agency period at a net loss as far as players signed/lost, so he can reap the rewards with extra draft picks a year later. The 49ers got two extra picks — a fourth-rounder and a seventh-rounder — in this year’s draft for what happened last year, and that could be why they’re dragging their feet on guys like Lance Briggs and Hakeem Nicks.
(Also, Hakeem Nicks? He was fun to watch a few years ago, and but he fell off the face of the earth in Indianapolis. Then again, he was a member of that Giants team that beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Get ready for Baalke to make a run at Victor Cruz in three years.)
This philosophy of stockpiling picks by turning a nose at free agency is smart, but it shouldn’t be a rigid rule that can never be broken. I’m not sure if Crabtree is the guy that Baalke should bend on, but all this talk about compensatory picks is getting old, sort of like Baalke’s obsession with torn-ACL guys who can be sit on an injured list for a year. Baalke would probably rather wait until May 12 (when the compensatory picks are no longer in play) and sign Nicks, preferably after Crabtree signs with some other team between now and then. Fine, he’s the GM.
At this point it seems like something’s got to be wrong with Crabtree’s wheels, or else he’d have signed with someone. We saw his numbers decline, and trainers attended to his left foot (which has been surgically repaired twice) during the win over the Eagles. However …
That was Crabtree’s response several weeks later, when a reporter asked whether injuries had anything to do with his lackluster season. He also tore his Achilles back in 2013, and may have come back a little too soon from that injury. Either way, there are a lot of red flags that would give teams pause before handing him the $20 million guaranteed deal he was probably expecting (and may still be seeking).
These are all valid concerns, but unless one can guarantee that Baalke is going to land an impact receiver in this draft, it might not be so bad to bring Crabtree back on a one-year, make-good kind of deal that would pay him more than what Miami offered. He’s not a bad guy, and the receivers other than Boldin and Smith are Jerome Simpson (ugh), Bruce Ellington (who I like, but is far from a proven commodity) and Quinton Patton (who somehow hurt the team in 2014 despite getting almost no playing time).
The 49ers have probably sworn off Crabtree, and they know more about his activities behind the scenes than anyone else. Crabtree may be done with the 49ers, especially after they gave all that money to Smith. And I know 49ers fans are sick of him, and are looking for a stud receiver in the first or second round who won’t have his playing time taken away by Crabtree, which the comments will probably reflect. But if he’s cheap and motivated, the 49ers could do worse.