Unlikely Crabtree will be on field for opener

Unlikely Crabtree will be on field for opener

The 49ers have just three more significant practices before the start of the regular season. That’s a not a lot of time for a rookie wide receiver to get up to speed on what he missed while absent from training camp.

So, at this point, even if Michael Crabtree were to agree to a contract in the next two or three days, he would have just three days of practices before the 49ers’ first game. Seems to me that’s asking a lot of anyone. I would not expect Crabtree to be in uniform for the opener Sept. 13 against the Cardinals.

“As far as Crabtree is concerned, he has to do what he has to do,” 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. “We’re not sitting here contemplating, waiting or anything. We’re not blinking. We’re not flinching. We are just doing what we have to do. We will let that take care of itself.”

The final cuts will be made Saturday. They have meetings scheduled for Monday, when the focus will shift entirely to preparations for the Cardinals. Tuesday is the traditional day off for players. And the team reports back Wednesday for on-field work.

The 49ers will practice Wednesday and Thursday. The Friday practice is a little lighter, and generally the team will have only a brief walk-through on Saturday. Basically, the 49ers have only three practices after tonight’s exhibition finale before opening the regular season.

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It’s impossible to predict when Crabtree will sign his deal. He’s living in the South Bay, so it would seem he intends to sign at some point. (Or he expects the 49ers to cave in.) If he decides to accept the 49ers’ offer, the deal can be finalized in short order.

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I received an email today from a reader wondering why the 49ers don’t just go ahead and give Crabtree the kind of money he’s seeking. Are the 49ers being cheap?

I don’t believe so. Every player has a value. And, much like the real-estate market, a player’s value is based on comps. In some cases, that might be subjective. The beauty of the draft is that it’s generally considered objective.

Crabtree was the No. 10 overall pick. Therefore, the standard practice in the NFL is that he should get more money than the No. 11 pick but not as much as the No. 9. (Quarterbacks generally get more than their slot, but that’s about the only wiggle room.) The slotting system is how the league determines how much each team can spend in its rookie pool. Each draft slot is assigned a portion of the rookie pool that decreases with every slot.

But there are other reasons why is it important the 49ers stay within that slotting system. Straying from the system could have major implications for the team’s salary structure.

Joe Staley just signed a contract extension that pays him $16 million in guaranteed money. That is the same amount of the 49ers’ offer to Crabtree. If the 49ers end up giving Crabtree an above-market deal, then what does that say to Staley?

Crabtree’s market deal is approximately $16 million in guaranteed money on a five-year contract. If the 49ers overpay him by $7 million, Staley has every right to think he got low-balled.

This would also impact the 49ers’ ability to sign players in the future. Patrick Willis is a player the 49ers will undoubtedly try to sign to a contract extension in the coming year or so. If the 49ers give a player who has yet to prove himself a $7 million bump over market value, then what will Willis expect from the 49ers?

The agents of current players might try to bully 49ers management for new contracts. And future draft picks will know that the 49ers do not adhere to the slotting system, and they might be more apt to threaten season-long holdouts, too. The 49ers have two first-round picks in 2010.

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In all my discussions with NFL agents and current and former NFL executives over the past month or more, I could not find one person who believes Crabtree’s camp has a reasonable argument for the money they’re demanding. Crabtree is looking for a deal similar to what the Raiders awarded seventh overall pick Darrius Heyward-Bey (five years, $38.5 million, $23.5 million guaranteed).

The only person out of Crabtree’s camp who is on the record with the reasoning for not accepting the 49ers’ offer is David Wells, described by ESPN as Crabtree’s cousin and advisor.

“Michael just wants fair market value,” Well said told ESPN on Aug. 7. “They took him with the 10th pick and you have Darrius Heyward-Bey getting $38 million? Michael was one of the best players in the draft and he just wants to be paid like one of the best players.”

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Because the question is asked so often, I figured I would repeat my new answer to the question of whether the 49ers would receive any compensation if they are unable to sign Crabtree before next year’s draft.

Of course, the NFL would not dole out any compensation, but the 49ers can arrange for their own compensation.

The deadline has passed for the 49ers to trade Crabtree during the 2009 league year (whether or not he’s under contract). But if Crabtree remains unsigned, the 49ers can trade him at any point between March 1, 2010, and the April 22, 2010, the first day of the draft.

So it’s entirely up to the 49ers to find a trade partner to work out the compensation they’d receive in a trade for Crabtree’s rights.

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Arnaz Battle, who appeared to be on shaky ground after the additions of Crabtree and Brandon Jones, has taken advantage of his opportunities. It looks as if Battle has solidified his spot on the 53-man roster.

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