Ann Killion
Wednesday October 7th, 2009

At the end of a 72-day holdout, during which he was nationally mocked as a selfish diva and reviled as a symbol of greed, Michael Crabtree wasn't greeted with a celebration on Wednesday.

"I told him, 'There will be no balloons, no parties when you get here,' " 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. Nor, as it turns out, a contract victory.

The 49ers are putting together a surprisingly successful season and you can count the end of the Crabtree holdout as yet another win.

Crabtree, the No. 10 pick in the April draft, thought he was worth more than No. 10 money. But what he ended up with -- after signing early Wednesday morning -- wasn't significantly more guaranteed money that he was originally offered in May.

That first offer was a five-year, $20 million contract, with $16 million guaranteed. What Crabtree reportedly accepted was an incentive-laden six-year, $32 million offer, with $17 million guaranteed.

So what was the point?

"My whole approach was to let my agent handle all my business," Crabtree said, wearing a No. 15 jersey. "This has been a very humbling experience."

It was indeed humbling. And seemingly pointless. If Crabtree thought he had leverage from another team, it apparently dried up. It seems no coincidence that another piece of the puzzle fell into place the same day, when the Jets traded for Cleveland receiver Braylon Edwards.

The Jets were part of the Crabtree melodrama: Shortly after NFL Network's Deion Sanders dropped on-air hints that other teams were involved with Crabtree, the 49ers filed tampering charges against the Jets. Combine the Jets' newfound love of Edwards with the ability of the 49ers to thrive without Crabtree (they're 3-1 and in control of the NFC West), and it all added up to a loss of influence for the Crabtree camp.

"It didn't hurt at all that we're having success," general manager Scot McCloughan said. "That there's a positive vibe nationally and locally."

The 49ers have made plenty of mistakes in recent years. But their handling of the Crabtree situation may mark a new stage of maturation for the organization. The 49ers stood their ground, didn't bend, and ended up with both the player and not a significantly altered deal.

"We didn't panic," McCloughan said.

Instead, the Crabtree camp came to them. On Sunday night, the 49ers found out that Crabtree and his agent, Eugene Parker, were flying to the Bay Area. The two sides met on Tuesday. There were still more odd developments. M.C. Hammer -- Sanders' old running mate -- was involved, ushering Crabtree and owner Jed York through the hotel lobby, and Crabtree dashed away from local reporters who were staking out the meeting. But the deal finally was done around 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Crabtree won't suit up against Atlanta on Sunday. The 49ers have a bye on Oct. 18. By the time the team travels to Crabtree's home state of Texas -- to play Houston on Oct. 25 -- the former Texas Tech receiver may be ready to run a few routes.

Now Crabtree has to work to win the respect of his teammates.

"He'll have to earn their trust," Singletary said.

Inside the 49ers' locker room, players didn't seem all that worried about the holdout. After all, that demographic is far more aware than the general public of the nasty business side of their profession.

"I couldn't wait for him to be here," tight end Vernon Davis said. "We're a team. We accept him. We're happy to have him."

Quarterback Shaun Hill joked about his own rookie holdout. "Yeah, I held out for the first seven rounds of the draft," said Hill, who signed with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2002.

Crabtree may have a more difficult time winning over the public. With unemployment hovering near 10 percent, Crabtree picked a wrong time to reject millions. There's been a lot of anger directed at him. And while Crabtree claimed to be oblivious to it, his teammates have heard it.

"I'm aware of that," said Davis, who has morphed from a target of fan derision into a crowd favorite this season. "He'll have to let his play speak for itself. Once he makes some plays, everybody will love him."

That's true. Especially with the way the 49ers are going.

"I'm happy for him and I'm happy for us too," Singletary said. "I think this team is really going to be something special and I want him to be a part of this. It's a win-win situation."

But much more of a win for the 49ers.

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