There is a saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Someone might want to tell that to Michael Crabtree, the number ten pick in the most recent NFL Draft. The wide receiver out of Mike Leach’s Texas Tech program is the only first-round selection at his position that remains to be signed by his team.
There are those who subscribe to the notion that the “modern athlete” is different than those of twenty years ago: less gritty, less tough-minded, and ultimately more driven by the allure of celebrity than by winning Super Bowl rings.
To be clear, that is not how I characterize Crabtree, but the longer he waits to sign with the 49ers, the more problems it could present down the road, for both his playing time and his public image.
There are three main considerations when thinking about the ramifications of Crabtree’s holdout: (1) his ability to integrate into the offense, (2) his public image and (3) his talent.
The NFL—more than any other professional sports league—is team-oriented. The symbol on the side of the helmet is usually held as more important that the individual athlete. This means that once training camps open, any player who holds out and doesn’t take part in OTAs and other drills is at a disadvantage when it comes to team chemistry and on-field rhythm with his teammates.
A veteran, such as the Patriots’ Randy Moss, might be able to miss days in camp without seriously impacting his chances of seeing the field come Week One. A rookie like Crabtree cannot afford to do the same. Each day he sits out is another missed opportunity to start learning the system of new offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye.
I want you to answer this question honestly: which position group in the league has the highest percentage of players who outwardly appear to be most self-involved? Perhaps “entitled” would be another good word to use here? If you answered “Wide Receivers”… ding ding ding! You would be correct!
The sideline tirades by Terrell Owens and the end-zone celebrations courtesy of Chad Ochocinco (not to mention the legal troubles of one Plaxico Burress of late) fairly or not, have come to define the position in the last decade.
Holding out for more money on an initial contract might not seem akin to proposing to a Bengals cheerleader post-touchdown or shooting yourself in the leg in a New York nightclub, but for a guy who was already accused of being “diva-like” upon exiting the Red Raiders program, Crabtree should be careful not to lend any credence to that assertion by holding out too long.
Crabtree is probably the most talented of the six wide receivers selected in the first round. Of course, the catch and subsequent touchdown between Crabtree and Graham Harrell against Texas will be forever etched in the memories of the folks in Lubbock.
With over 3,000 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns in his collegiate years, he may have been one of the best wide receivers at the college level over the past two seasons… But that’s just it: that was college.
The disparity in talent levels is astronomical between Division I and the group run by Roger Goodell, meaning that as a rookie, he might be lucky to haul in even five to ten touchdowns.
Plus, according to this report from the San Francisco Chronicle, the team may already have a capable stable of wideouts to choose from, possibly eliminating the need for a guy who, to date, is an unproven commodity in Crabtree.
I understand that things like contract negotiations require two sides. Crabtree and his agent obviously believe that he is worth more than what the San Francisco franchise is currently offering, but understand this: Given the trio of considerations above, if Crabtree does not sign on the dotted line soon, the chances of seeing him scoring on Sundays for the 49ers get more remote.