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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Michael Crabtree's injury and the West race

By Mike Sando


The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have, by some accounts, carried their NFC West rivalry into the offseason.

When one team would make a high-profile move, the other would seem to have a move of its own ready.

The parallels have taken an unfortunate turn recently, with bad news visiting these Super Bowl contenders.

Less than a week after the Seahawks learned they would lose defensive end Bruce Irvin to a four-game suspension, news broke Wednesday that the 49ers' leading receiver, Michael Crabtree, suffered an apparent torn Achilles tendon during practice.

Practice!

Oh, the irony. Crabtree has been known throughout his career more for missing and even avoiding practices than for participating in them. A rookie contract holdout and various injuries kept him on the sideline in past offseasons, sometimes to others' apparent frustration.

Crabtree distanced himself from those perceptions last season when he set career highs with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns during the 49ers' Super Bowl season. He flourished in particular once Colin Kaepernick became the 49ers' starting quarterback. This was going to be the season when Crabtree would set his value for the long term; his contract runs through the 2014 season.

Crabtree is undergoing additional tests to confirm the injury's extent. Without him, the 49ers will rely more heavily upon tight end Vernon Davis and the newly acquired Anquan Boldin. They could need 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins to develop, something they were expecting to happen anyway. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams also become more relevant, at least on paper and provided Manningham recovers from his own serious injury.

Losing Crabtree for the season would diminish but hardly kill the 49ers' status as a Super Bowl favorite. Their coaching staff is versatile enough to adjust. They have other players to pick up the slack. But when people have recently asked me whether the 49ers or Seahawks should be favored in the NFC West, I've told them injuries would likely be the deciding factor between teams that finished a half-game apart in the standings last season.

Think of it another way. Seattle added Percy Harvin this offseason. The 49ers added Boldin, but now they have potentially lost Crabtree. That's a huge net gain in the Seahawks' favor -- the type of exchange that could swing a division race.