Tying up loose ends before weekend getaway

There’s a big game in the NFC West on Sunday, as the Seahawks play host to the Cardinals. Both teams are in striking range of the 49ers. In fact, the Cardinals can match the 49ers’ 3-2 record with a road victory.

 

My wife says she won’t allow me to watch any football during our weekend getaway to Pollock Pines. But I’m sure she was just kidding.

 

Anyway, before hitting the road, I’ll try to tie up a few loose ends with some answers to questions I’ve received over the past couple days:

 

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Question: How did Michael Crabtree’s signing affect the 49ers’ salary cap?

Maiocco: Crabtree counts $1.83 million against the cap this season, which is the maximum the 49ers could devote to him to stay within their rookie salary pool.

 

The 49ers are $10.4 million under the salary cap. The average cap space available for all teams in the NFL is $7.9 million. At both ends of the spectrum, Tampa Bay has $28 million in cap space, and the New York Jets have a cushion of just $1.4 million.

 

But in actual dollars spent this season in payroll, the 49ers are more than $7 million over the league average. The 49ers’ payroll is $132.5 million. The league average is $125 million.

 

Q: Is the Crabtree contract good or bad for the 49ers?

MM: I’ve spoken with agents who have the contract in front of them, and it’s very difficult to break it down. We won’t know exactly how much of the six-year, $32 million deal he’ll receive until the contract has run its course.

 

One thing about the contract for the 49ers is that Crabtree is scheduled to earn $4 million in the sixth-year of the deal. This means it will be significantly easier for them to sign him to a contract extension – if they want to sign him to a contract extension – before the deal expires. Another Eugene Parker client, Larry Fitzgerald, had all the leverage against the Cardinals because his final-year salary figure was more than $16 million.

 

But the part of the deal that makes sense is that Crabtree will get paid like a star if he becomes a star. The 49ers would love to see the contract max out, because that would mean Crabtree has earned every penny. In that case, it’s a win-win.

 

Of course, Crabtree did not have to remain unsigned for 71 days. But the 49ers might actually benefit in the long term. If the deal had been done at the start of camp, it would’ve been a five-year contract. But the 49ers insisted on a sixth-year being added after he missed all that time. He’ll be in uniform next week against the Texans, so he’ll be available for 11 games this season. So Crabtree’s deal is actually a 5-and-two-thirds-year contract.

 

Q: How big of an impact do you think Crabtree makes in his first game? (BOSS2185)

MM: That will be determined over the weekend and in the Wednesday practice before the Texans game. Crabtree will play, coach Mike Singletary said. From the limited practice I saw on Wednesday, he looks like he’s coming along pretty well. The original plan is for him to play the slot in three-WR sets. We’ll see if his classroom work and play on the practice field does anything – one way or the other – to influence that original design.

 

Q: With Crabtree signing, does this mean last year for Isaac Bruce? (Krazo74)

MM: Probably. Bruce’s contract expires at the end of the season, and it’s time for the 49ers to find more playing time for Jason Hill.

 

Q:  Now who do you think will handle the kick and punt returns? (Hatz49)

MM: Arnaz Battle will handle punts, and Delanie Walker might continue to do kickoff returns. Also, Micheal Spurlock and Josh Morgan have return capabilities. Michael Robinson is one of the deep men on kickoffs, but that’s mostly for blocking duties.

 

I was surprised the 49ers cut Allen Rossum. After all, the guy was outstanding last season with a 26.8 yard average on kickoff returns (with one TD) and a 14.9 average on punt returns. He had a 75-yard punt return for a TD against the Seahawks that was nullified by Glen Coffee’s illegal block. Ironically, Singletary said the move to cut Rossum and keep Spurlock was made because of special teams. Rossum did not cover kicks and punts.

 

And, by the way, a club source tells me there is nothing to the report that the 49ers are pursuing a trade for Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs.

 

Q: Why did the 49ers release rookie running back Kory Sheets?

MM: I’ll defer to coach Mike Singletary on this one. “Kory is a good runner,” Singletary said, “but there’s a lot more to football than running.” This is the same kind of reasoning for why the 49ers were not as high on Thomas Clayton as many of the fans. It also is a strong indication that this decision to allow him to be signed by the Miami Dolphins was influenced greatly at the coaching level.

 

In general terms, a team’s front office controls the fate of draft picks in whom the club has invested some money. Late-round picks and free agents often are at the mercy of the coaching staff – the people who work closely with the players and whose responsibility it is to implement their skills on the field.

 

So the 49ers lost Sheets this week. The Dolphins have to keep him on their 53-man roster for three weeks. If Sheets gets released at some point, I’m not sure it’s a given that the 49ers would try to pick him up again.

 

Q: Looking ahead, do you believe the Niners will keep both 1st round picks next year, or trade one or both? (FrankyTheKid)

MM: A lot of things can happen between now and the draft, and the 49ers’ draft strategy will continue to evolve. If there’s a player the 49ers really like, they should be able to move up a few spots and nab him.

 

Q: Is it possible the 49ers look at acquiring Brady Quinn? (michaelwinner)

MM: I wouldn’t think so. I doubt the 49ers feel Quinn is a better option right now to any of the team’s three QBs in their current spots. In other words, I’m sure they like a developing Nate Davis over Quinn as the No. 3, and Alex Smith as the No. 2. And, of course, they don’t believe Quinn could step in now and be a better option in this offense than Shaun Hill as the starter.

 

The trade deadline is this coming Tuesday. There’s a chance the 49ers could swing a trade – but I wouldn’t necessarily expect it. And even if they were active, I’m not sure if it would be as a buyer or seller. Certainly, they have plenty of bodies at wide receiver to deal, if they’re so inclined (and can find a trade partner).

 

Q: What’s Alex Smith’s status with team now full blown backup or still prospect and future starting QB? (Marc322)

MM: They’re going to see where it takes them. He is signed for this year and next. He has been practicing well, so they remain optimistic that he’ll be productive when (if) he gets his chance. It’s now been two full seasons since the shoulder injury knocked him out of the lineup. The way the 49ers are currently constructed, he would have his best chance at success.

 

Q: I am curious to see what you make of Alex Smith staying behind to practice. Seems like everyone is making a big deal out of this, but is there more to read into it? (Kit)

MM: As Smith addressed in the podcast, he is the only QB who lives in the Bay Area. Alex’s wife goes to culinary school, so it would not be cool for him to leave town. Hill and Davis — and almost everybody else on the team – booked their flights when coach Mike Singletary told them of the bye-week plans a couple weeks ago. This is the only time in a five-month stretch that players can get away and see family. Smith has nothing else to do, so he said he’d come by and throw some passes.

Q: Do you think Singletary will put Wragge at RG? What kind of O-line changes do you think he’ll make over the bye week? (aliman92)

MM: Singletary said he would probably make some changes, and he said there were a couple different ideas they’re kicking around. Chilo Rachal has clearly been a disappointment at right guard. (Hear what Singletary said about him on the sideline during the Rams game.)

 

The new line figures to involve a man named Tony.

 

Yes, Wragge could be inserted at right guard. Tony Pashos could figure into the mix in some way, too. Right tackle Adam Snyder is hobbled with a leg injury. Pashos played most of the game Sunday at right tackle. He started to play some guard before the Jaguars cut him at the end of training camp. We’ll just have to wait until after the weekend to find out.

 

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