Paul Sakuma / Associated Press
Michael Crabtree may have no other choice than to play for the 49ers.


Michael Crabtree's only rational move is to sign a contract with the San Francisco 49ers, the sooner the better.

When you breakdown the situation regarding the 10th overall pick, still unsigned, his lack of leverage is glaring. It's hard to concoct a scenario where, at some point in 2010 or beyond (should he actually be so shortsighted as to sit out a season, and I still can't fathom anyone would do that), he finds a way to earn the kind of money he could get right now (in the range of $15-16 million, guaranteed).

The CBA is structured in a way as to force these parties together -- the integrity of the draft is at the heart of the league -- and with each passing day Crabtree only loses, in terms of the value of money in his pocket now, and his likely ability to earn more in an expedited fashion. In fact, what little negotiating strength he had, is gone. As per the CBA, now that we are within 30 days of the start of the regular season, San Francisco can't trade the rights to Crabtree, or the signed player himself, until the start of the 2010 league year at the earliest (March 1). There's nowhere else to go but the Bay.

On NFL Network:
As teams trim their rosters to 53 players, NFL Total Access will air a 90-minute cut-down day special on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
» NFL Network schedule

Also, if Crabtree is not signed by Week 10, then he becomes ineligible to play in 2009, and thus would have blown a chance at an accrued season, a step closer to eventual free agency and a shot to start chipping away at all of those escalators and incentives that are sure to be a big part of his contract. Even if his rights were dealt to another team in March, he couldn't actually sign with that new team until the day of the draft, as per the CBA, and, realistically, if we play this thing forward, no owner would take him on without knowing he could be signed first. So the only reasonable solution should it reach this point (and, again, I can't imagine it ever does), would be a sign-and-trade.

Okay, so let's play it out. Let's say that Crabtree's end game in all of this is to get to another team, where he believes he can earn more money (a sentiment that is making the rounds in league circles). The reality is, no team is going to break the slot for him, now or in the future, especially via trade. That's not grounded in reality and will cost him money.

Let's say he is dealt in March via a sign-and-trade. He is still going to have to come under the new team's 2010 rookie cap, and in this instance he's going to be getting signed well before the rookie cap numbers are even released. Even if 2010 is an uncapped year, the rookie pool is still in play, the 25 percent rule still applies, so you aren't going to be able to go crazy and frontload a deal. Yes, in the uncapped scenario you can guarantee the fifth and sixth years on the back end, but the idea of a windfall of money up front is a mirage.

In this scenario, the bulk of his money would come not in the form of a signing bonus, but rather roster bonuses, option bonuses. We're already in the 2010 league year in this scenario, and if he has a rough rookie season, which is the norm, he just pushed back another chance to get at that money. And, yes, most one-timer bonuses are backed up by guaranteeing salary in future years should the player not meet the playing time minimums, but again, now we're looking at possibly 2012 before he starts getting to that big money, much of which he could already have in his pocket now under the deal San Francisco has on the table.

David Stluka / Associated Press
The short-lived NFL career of Mike Williams should provide a cautionary tale for Michael Crabtree.

Also, any team that would pull off a sign-and-trade with San Francisco had better be very careful that it doesn't misjudge the pool, or give him too much of an increase, because now you've just wounded the earning potential of the rest of your picks and created possible headaches with some of those players (who haven't even been drafted yet, since we're in March when this hypothetical sign-and-trade is done).

So you're looking at a contract with a lot of Not-Likely-To-Be-Earned (NLTBE) money, which are the escalators and incentives based on performance and playing time that can trigger big paydays. But, again, let's look at the success rate there, particularly for wide receivers, and first-round wide receivers at that. The vast majority of them struggle, at least for a few years, and it's at best a 50/50 proposition that you ever get into much of that NLTBE money.

Between 2004-2008, 19 WRs were taken in the first round, and only eight have produced as would be expected, while eight have been busts thus far and three of them would fall somewhere in between. Even looking at guys who have enjoyed strong careers, Santana Moss for instance, played in just 12 percent of his team's snaps in his rookie season. And if the team that traded for Crabtree already had decent wide receivers, his playing time would be impacted by that as well.

And, heck, let's say that Michael Crabtree is the next Larry Fitzgerald, and by his second year he is a star. Okay, well, he has sat out 2009, and let's say he plays well enough that he starts getting into some of those incentives and bonuses after a nice 2010 season. Well, there is a very good chance of a work stoppage in 2011, which, at worst-case scenario (a lost season), would mean Crabtree just spent two of his first three seasons on the sidelines. So now you could be looking at 2012 before he really starts to get that money, and in the meantime he's earning in the range of $320,000 a season in base salary.

Obviously, if he suffered an injury, it's going to derail his ability to get more of those NLTBEs as well. It's a huge, uncalculated gamble to risk what you have on the table right now for what you hope could be a bigger cash grab. It doesn't add up. Should he turn out to be more of a Mike Williams or Charles Rogers than a Fitzgerald, then the amount of money Crabtree will have left on the table from the offer he is sitting on right now would be staggering.

So take the $15 million guaranteed now. He's already cost himself a shot to get to that big one-timer bonus based on playing time this year, in all likelihood, given how much time he has missed and how far behind he is in working with the QBs and learning the system. Put that money in your pocket, start to invest some, let the money start making more money for you, rather than waiting on something that likely won't ever come.

What about going back into the draft, you say? Won't that solve his problems.

Well, alright, let's say the 49ers can't work out a deal that makes sense for them and he re-enters the draft. Crabtree cannot even being to talk to another team until the day of the draft, as per the CBA. So no combine, no pro day, no big workouts for NFL brass. No phone interviews with execs. Nothing. The 49ers control his rights until the 2010 draft. So, after missing the combine in 2009 due to injury, teams still wouldn't have recent measurables on him or know his 40 time. There would be no recent film on him.

Top WR prospects
Gil Brandt presents his rankings of the top 15 senior wide receivers that scouts will be keeping a close eye on this fall, a list topped by LSU's Brandon LaFell.
More ...

» Brandt: Facts about receivers in draft

To make up the money he would have lost, via the slot system, Crabtree would have to be taken in the first seven selections in 2010. That's not happening. Plus, let's take a look at the potential draft class at wide receiver. Looks pretty deep to me. Dez Bryant, Arrelious Benn and Brandon LaFell could all be very, very good and go in the first round, and as the college football season goes on others will emerge.

Crabtree wasn't the first WR taken in his own draft class the first time around, and given all the problems he will have caused by the time a hypothetic second draft came around, no way it happens. The kind of teams likely to gamble on him are already strong franchises -- New England and Philadelphia are sage at getting guys when their values are lowest -- but those clubs win a lot of games and pick low, and those are the shrewd spending clubs that would never break the slot to give a kid No. 10 overall money at, say, pick No. 25.

All logic points to him taking what is on the table right now. The risks in no way justify the potential rewards of any other course of action. I haven't found a single agent, cap expert or team exec to say otherwise. The 49ers have acted in good faith and made a slotted offer. Crabtree's best opportunity to make close to what the 10th pick in the draft should be getting is to sign immediately and start figuring out what it takes to be a top receiver in the NFL. The more time he wastes, the further behind he falls, the more money he stands the chance of costing himself.

NFL News
CONTENT
15