Considerable risks if Crabtree sits out season

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s(notes) threat to sit out the entire 2009 season and go back in the NFL draft next year is not the first time someone has tried the ploy. However, the realities of the financial gamble make it clear that Crabtree would be risking a lot.

For it to pay off, Crabtree would have to be drafted at least at No. 7 or higher in 2010 to make a profit on that ploy. Many NFL scouts, coaches and executives considered Crabtree a top-five pick before it was discovered at the NFL scouting combine in February that he had a stress fracture in his left foot As a result, he fell to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 10 overall.

However, given the type of talent that’s going to be available in the 2010 draft and the fact that some teams would be leery of taking a guy who hadn’t played in a year (let alone one who had been a difficult guy to negotiate with), Crabtree is likely better suited to sign now. Or as former NFL scout Russell Lande put it: “It could be catastrophic to his career.”

Lande, who runs the website gmjrnfldraft.com and does draft analysis for sportingnews.com, worked in NFL scouting for seven years and has developed a strong reputation for his knowledge of the draft. Among the players he expects to go high in the 2010 draft: Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap, defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma offensive tackle Trent Williams all would likely go ahead of Crabtree. Then throw in perhaps one of the quarterbacks among the group of Jevan Snead (Mississippi), Colt McCoy (Texas) and Tim Tebow (Florida), perhaps one or both of the top junior safeties (Taylor Mays of Southern California or Eric Berry of Tennessee) and, finally, the top two receivers (Arrelious Benn of Illinois and Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State) and the chances of Crabtree going at No. 7 or higher get dicey.

“I think it would be real tough for him to get picked that high,” said Lande said.

That fact, combined with several other unknowns, perhaps makes Crabtree’s ploy to return to the draft little more than a hollow threat. Or as one agent put it: “You never make that money back. Yeah, if the team is really being a pain about it, you might want to do it. But it really doesn’t work.”

If Crabtree does follow through on the threat, it would not be an unprecedented move. Kelly Stouffer was drafted No. 6 overall in 1987 by the St. Louis Cardinals, but did not play for the club. Stouffer was eventually traded to Seattle in 1988. In 1986, running back Bo Jackson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but refused to sign. He played professional baseball and was a seventh-round pick by the Los Angeles Raiders the following year. In 2006, New Orleans running back Reggie Bush(notes) toyed with the idea of sitting out until the Saints upped their offer to nearly match the contract that went to No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams(notes).

Crabtree has asked San Francisco for a deal equal to that of No. 7 overall pick Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes) of Oakland, the first receiver selected. Heyward-Bey received a five-year, $38.25 million deal including $23.5 million guaranteed.

Based on the contract that 2008 No. 10 overall pick Jerod Mayo(notes) of the New England Patriots received last year, Crabtree could reasonably expect a five-year deal worth at least $22 million, including at least $16 million guaranteed.

While the difference between the Heyward-Bey contract and what Crabtree can expect is significant, it ignores some long-term realities. Primarily, by sitting out, Crabtree would delay getting to free agency by at least a year, significantly impacting his ability to make even more money. Second, Crabtree could risk being forced to take a six-year contract in 2010 rather than the five-year deal the 49ers have offered this year. If Crabtree signs for six years, he would then be delaying his chance for free agency by two years. Third, Crabtree could risk the chance of facing a rookie wage scale in 2010 if the NFL and NFL Players Association work out an extension of the collective bargaining agreement before 2010. That risk is the smallest but still exists.

Given where signing bonuses and guaranteed money for top receivers could be in five to six years, Crabtree could be costing himself $10 million-$20 million by delaying his chance for free agency ‐ if he’s the player he expects to be. To make up that potential difference, he’d have to be at least the No. 7 overall pick in 2010, assuming there is no wage scale. Based on Heyward-Bey’s contract this year, the seventh-overall pick projects to make approximately $28 million guaranteed. That would represent a $12 million difference between what Crabtree is projected to get this year and would cover the possible difference in delaying free agency.

Another issue that Crabtree could face if he re-enters next year draft is that he won’t be allowed to work out for other teams while the 49ers hold his rights.

“He can’t work out for other teams while [the] Niners hold his draft rights,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed Saturday in an email.

The 49ers would have until the beginning of the ’10 draft to sign Crabtree.

Workouts, which include the NFL scouting combine and college pro days, are considered essential for teams to check on the health and ability of players. Without those workouts, Crabtree would raise the risk of falling behind other players in the draft, likely dropping his draft stock even further.


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Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Aug 8, 2009