October 07, 2009
Michael Crabtree(notes) finally signed with the San Francisco 49ers this morning, ending the longest rookie holdout since 2002. After all the bluster and threats of sitting out the season, Crabtree signed a deal a six-year, $32 million deal with $17 million in guaranteed money. That was considerably less than he had been seeking.
If Crabtree lives up to the expectations he helped set during his stellar collegiate years at Texas Tech, this holdout will be a footnote to his NFL career. If he proves to be a bust, history will look upon this 67 day holdout as the catalyst for his NFL failure.
Does past history provide an indication as to how this holdout will affect Crabtree? Shutdown Corner looked at all the lengthy rookie holdouts of the past 25 years and found results to be mixed. Below we list two players who succeeded despite long holdouts and two players who didn't.
Bo Jackson had the most famous rookie holdout of all-time, but we're not including him on this list because his situation (in which he had the leverage of walking way from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to go play baseball) was vastly different than that of guys like Crabtree.
Two who made it:
1) Emmitt Smith, 1990, length of holdout: 48 days -- You forgot Emmitt was a holdout in '89, didn't you? Missing all of his first training camp and preseason didn't have much negative impact on the University of Florida product. Smith earned AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1990 despite signing with the Cowboys five days before the start of the regular season. He, of course, finished his career as the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
2) Cornelius Bennett, 1987, 102 days -- The second overall choice in the 1987 draft by the Indianapolis Colts, Bennett held out through the start of the season and, eventually, the 24-day players strike. On Halloween he was sent to Buffalo as part of that massive three-team trade which featured Eric Dickerson. He went on to star for the Bills in four Super Bowls and played in five Pro Bowls during his career. Interestingly, Bennett finished his career with the team he initially refused to sign with.
Two who didn't:
1) JaMarcus Russell(notes), 2007, 47 days -- If you're wondering whether it's too early to put JaMarcus Russell on this side of the list then you've clearly never seen JaMarcus Russell play in the NFL. Yes, there's still a shot he defies all logic and morphs from the worst quarerback in the league into a marginal one. Don't count on it though.
2) Kelly Stouffer, 1987, entire season -- The No. 6 pick in the '87 draft was the last rookie to sit out an entire season. After being taken by the St. Louis Cardinals, Stouffer's agents advised him to sit out the year after claiming owner Bill Bidwell was "low-balling them". (The Cardinals recall things differently. Given Bidwell's history, it's hard to believe that though.) Before the 1988 season, Stouffer's rights were traded to the Seahawks. Even though his career never took off (he went 5-11 as a starter and threw for under 3,000 yards in his four years in the league), he says the holdout played no role in his struggles.
Crabtree's holdout will have a clear effect on his rookie season, but beyond that it's up to him. Sitting out until week five in 2009 is unlikely to have an effect on his career in 2012. I doubt that JaMarcus Russell would be any better if he had gone to camp on time and, certainly, Emmitt Smith couldn't have improved his career by much if he hadn't held out until after Labor Day.
The success of Crabtree will depend on a number of factors including work ethic, talent, offensive system and his dedication to football. It's popular to argue that his holdout reflects negatively upon his character (read the comments on this post), but would anyone say Emmitt Smith didn't care because he held out in 1990? If Crabtree fails it won't be because he waited too long to sign.
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