By Michael Rosenberg
September 17, 2009

Michael Crabtree has had an unusual NFL career so far, wouldn't you say? He was drafted in April, and since then, he has played zero games and grown two horns.

As you have probably heard by now, Crabtree was supposed to be one of the top seven picks in the draft, fell to San Francisco at 10, and is having a little trouble getting over it. He wants to be paid like one of the top seven picks. And its a bad, bad time to be a holdout in the middle of the Great Recession, with millions losing their jobs, everybody worried about health care, people starving in Africa, etc. Michael Crabtree is supposed to eat his vegetables and shut up.

For a society that loves its sports stars, we are remarkably adept at painting them as the devil. Crabtree is just the latest. But let's step back for a second and try to climb into Crabtree's head.

As he watched the 49ers upset the NFC champion Cardinals last week, he had to wonder:

How did I get here?

If we're honest, well admit that on a smaller scale, we've all boxed ourselves into an untenable position like Michael Crabtree. You start arguing that Brandon Roy is an underrated NBA star, and people mock you, and this ticks you off, and you tell them they don't get it, and the next thing you know, you're saying that Roy is better than Kobe Bryant, as good as Michael Jordan, and you think, Whoa, this makes no sense, what am I saying here? But you are stuck. You re backed into a corner and you're too embarrassed to crawl out.

This all started because Crabtree and his agent, Eugene Parker, decided to use mock drafts to get some extra money out of the Niners. The Raiders drafted receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ahead of him, for reasons that made no sense to anybody, and Crabtree and Parker figure the Niners should right that wrong.

(I can only imagine Parker's next trick: My client should be paid like the No. 3 pick, because that is where he went in my fantasy draft. Yes, its true that he was drafted by my brother. But my brother finished fourth in his league last year, which is more than I can say for the 49ers.

At some point, Crabtree became his negotiating tactic.

Crabtree is wrong, of course. But he is also right: he should have been drafted higher. Everybody thought so. In fact, after the draft, experts (and people like me) argued over whether Matthew Stafford was better than Mark Sanchez, or whether the Chiefs drafted Tyson Jackson too high, and why Al Davis used his second-round pick to draft Mike Mitchell. But we all agreed that Michael Crabtree should have been picked higher.

Even the 49ers agreed.

"We had no idea he would be there at 10," coach Mike Singletary said after Crabtree was drafted. "It was one of the last scenarios we thought we would end up with. He's been one of the best guys, the past couple of years in college football."

General manager Scot McCloughan said: ""I really didn't think it would happen. That's a long way for a guy like that to fall, to 10.

Does this mean the 49ers should pay Crabtree like he was the No. 5 pick? Of course not. He was picked 10th. He should be paid like he was picked 10th. That's not my point. I'm just saying: I understand why he thought he could get more.

Crabtree is mostly hurting himself. For all the heat he's taken, its not like he broke a contract. He never had a contract. This is like going to the supermarket and deciding milk is overpriced, it shouldn't be more than two bucks a gallon, and everybody looks at you like you're crazy, but dammit, you've been around the block, you know how many cows live in a 20-mile radius, and this is ridiculous. And everybody else buys their groceries and you look like an idiot and you know it, but it is humiliating to finally fork over the full price.

Try to put yourself in Crabtree's spot. You know you screwed up. If you could do it all over again, you might hire a different agent, and you definitely would have taken the 49ers offers two months ago. But you can't do it all over again. This is where you are.

You know who can save him? The 49ers.

They don't have to pay him like the No. 5 or 7 pick. They just have to give him a chance to save face.

Alter the deal slightly. Give him a little more money up front. Put some crazy incentives in there that he'll probably never reach, but will give him a chance to say, Hey, all I said is that I believe I'm the best receiver in this draft, and now if I prove it, I will be properly rewarded.

The rest of us will roll our eyes, but we'll move on. Crabtree will get paid a lot of money to play football, Parker can claim he won, and the 49ers will have the heir to Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens. And Michael Crabtree can go to his bedroom at night, turn off the light, laugh to himself and think, as we all do sometimes: I can't believe I did that.

You May Like