Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Questions, answers and observations as the 49ers prepare for their 2009 regular-season opener without first-round draft choice Michael Crabtree:
1. Is an agreement in sight? The evidence suggests not. Players tend to sign before missing regular-season game checks, but by now we would have seen more signs of movement. None is apparent. Crabtree's throwing session with Trent Dilfer took place three weeks ago, so I wouldn't read much into that. If Crabtree lets one game slip past without signing, we'll know he's as serious as he appears.
2. What is the holdup? It's impossible to know without trusting sources with a vested interest in how the arguments are framed. The cliché says the devil is in the details, and that is probably the case here. High-stakes negotiations for drafted rookies are about identifying which incentive terms will allow the player to maximize total value. What if Crabtree fears he could not hit those incentives in the 49ers' conservative offense? More on that in a bit.
3. Does Crabtree want to play for the 49ers? I'm starting to have doubts. The other first-round picks in this division had a hard time missing training camp practices, let alone exhibition games or the regular season. Beanie Wells traveled overnight to reach Cardinals camp without missing any more practices than necessary. Aaron Curry told reporters he had reached a breaking point after missing one week of camp. Crabtree? Not so much.
4. Why wouldn't Crabtree want to play for the 49ers? Perhaps he's been listening to Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye talking about how they want to run the ball 60 percent of the time, more than any NFL offense ran the ball last season. The way quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Alex Smith performed during the exhibition season probably didn't help. And if you look at Raye's history as a coordinator -- see the chart below -- he's clearly serious about running the football.
The reception leaders in Raye-coordinated offenses averaged 55 catches per season, with only two receivers reaching 65 receptions in 12 seasons. Those same 12 offenses produced 2,105- and 1,808-yard rushing seasons for Eric Dickerson, a 1,432-yard season for Stephen Davis, a 1,300-yard season for James Wilder and a 1,025-yard season for LaMont Jordan.
5. Will the 49ers cave? I do not think so. Crabtree was a value pick, not a need pick. The 49ers knew they wanted to be a power running team. They weren't going to build the offense around a rookie receiver who missed minicamps while rehabbing a foot injury. More broadly, the 49ers and the rest of the NFL have too much at stake to be perceived as altering the informal slotting system teams use to determine value for draft choices.
6. Who is advising Crabtree? Eugene Parker is the agent of record. We also should not underestimate Deion Sanders' sway as a mentor and opinionated adviser. Sanders suggested on NFL Network that other teams would be willing to acquire Crabtree from the 49ers and meet his contract demands. Sounds to me as though Crabtree would welcome a trade. Sanders is 42 years old, hardened by the league and bottom-line oriented in his assessments. I think he could influence Crabtree's thinking.
7. Is a trade likely? The likelihood increases if Crabtree stays away through the season. The 49ers cannot appear to be acquiescing, but they also need to get value in the end. If the 49ers enjoy a season and Crabtree stays away, a trade becomes more palatable.
8. Who has more at stake? Crabtree. The 49ers do not need a rookie receiver to accomplish what Singletary has set out to accomplish. Crabtree needs the 49ers to get what he wants in the short term. And if he does sit out the season with an eye toward re-entering a future draft, he will have lost money in the short term while possibly alienating other teams. There's no guarantee another team would draft him high enough to offset the compensation Crabtree would have bypassed in the interim.