During the first few weeks of free agency, few teams seemed to be interested in former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Then, as Bleacher Report NFL Insider Jason Cole put it, what little market there was for his services “crashed.”
Per Cole, Crabtree was seeking $9 million or $10 million per year. Even with the inflated prices of free agency, that seems like a lot. Crabtree’s actual worth will be determined by a market that so far has produced few suitors, especially at that price.
Crabtree will visit the Oakland Raiders next week, according to Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports. If the Raiders or another team signs Crabtree, how much should they be willing to pay? What should the market be for a receiver two years removed from his only 1,000-yard season?
Given their need for targets for second-year quarterback Derek Carr, the Raiders may value Crabtree more than a team with a lesser need. If there is one team that’s going to overpay players this offseason, it’s the Raiders.
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It may also be a chance for Crabtree to spark his market, as many players have used the Raiders as leverage in their negotiations with other teams. The Raiders pursued Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb before he re-signed during the legal tampering window.
Either way, there are a few ways to try to determine Crabtree’s actual worth. We can look at the raw statistics and do some calculations based on last year’s performance or we can try to find players like Crabtree for comparison both from statistical and non-statistical viewpoints.
Calculating the WR Market
Many wide receivers have signed this offseason, so the market rates for them are established. Crabtree’s asking price likely scared away any potential suitors before now, but let’s assume for a second that production drives the market.
The top-10 free-agent wide receivers this offseason averaged 62 receptions for 787 yards and five touchdowns last season. That’s not far off of Crabtree’s 2014 marks of 68 receptions for 698 yards and four touchdowns. They also averaged 4.3 receptions and 53 yards per game to Crabtree’s 4.3 receptions and 44 yards per game.
|The WR Market|
|Player||REC||YDS||Avg. $||Guar. $||$ Per Rec||$ Per Yard||Guar. $ Per REC||Guar. $ Per YD|
|Michael Crabtree (Projected)||68||698||$6.3M||$8.8M||$102K||$8K||$144K||$11K|
The average salary for those 10 receivers is $6.4 million with $8.9 million guaranteed, but we can adjust that further by averaging their average salary and guarantee per reception, yard and touchdown. When we do that, Crabtree’s market rate is an average salary of $5.9 million with $8.3 million guaranteed. If we take out touchdowns that are highly volatile, we get a $6.3 million average salary and $8.9 million guarantee.
Given that we are into one-year deal territory, the salary and guarantee are more likely to match. The Raiders in particular have matched their cap and cash dollars. That means $6 million-$7 million would be reasonable based off of the raw numbers and the market so far.
This method suffers from a major flaw being based upon what these players and Crabtree did last year and not what they will do going forward. Still, the market was surprisingly consistent with only a few outliers.
Of course, there is a lot more to signing Crabtree than the raw numbers.
There are those that insist Crabtree’s reputation as a diva is overblown. Perhaps it is, but it didn’t come out of nowhere.
He has a reputation as not being a team player for holding out his rookie season and reluctantly participating in Alex Smith’s offseason workouts. There was reportedly tension between the two for that reason.
Having a team leader like tight end Vernon Davis blow up on you doesn’t help his case. Openly complaining about your usage, first with Alex Smith and more recently with Colin Kaepernick isn’t going to help his case. The perception is that Crabtree prioritizes his production over the team’s production.
If Crabtree really wasn’t his source, Sanders recklessly reported something without soliciting the opinion of the player he is closest to in that locker room. Possible, but it does little to quiet the chorus of those that believe Crabtree wasn’t good in the locker room.
For a true No. 1 wide receiver with multiple 1,000-yard seasons and more than zero 10-touchdown seasons, most teams would probably tolerate it. For 877 yards, Crabtree’s career average, they won’t.
Two years ago, the Raiders got 888 yards from undrafted wide receiver Rod Streater. Receivers like Nate Washington, Rueben Randle and Brian Hartline have better seasons than Crabtree since 2013.
Hartline was also a free agent in 2014 and signed with the Cleveland Browns for $3 million over two years with $3 million guaranteed. Hartline’s 2014 season was also much worse than Crabtree’s.
Hakeem Nicks—also a first-round pick and part of the same draft class as Crabtree—had 896 yards in 2013. That’s similar to Crabtree’s 2014 numbers.
Nicks signed a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts last offseason for $4 million, according to Spotrac. Nicks is now a free agent again after a lackluster year.
Even with the down year, Nicks has still averaged more yards per game in his career than Crabtree, Nicks also has two 1,000-yard seasons to Crabtree’s one and one season in which he caught 11 touchdowns. Crabtree is probably a better receiver right now than Nicks, but given the off-the-field stuff, he might not do better in free agency in 2014 as Nicks did in 2013.
Cecil Shorts and Harry Douglas are the closest comparable free-agent receivers to Crabtree last year in terms of yards per game. Greg Jennings is also comparable, but he remains unsigned.
Shorts signed for $3 million per year with $2.5 million guaranteed. Douglas for $3.75 million per year with $3.75 million guaranteed. Realistically, Crabtree is probably going to fall into this range.
It’s possible Crabtree could land a one-year deal worth about $3 million in 2015 with incentives that could push it up near $6 million. That would protect the team, but also give Crabtree the opportunity to earn closer to the market rate.
Either way, he’s not going to sniff $9 million unless he makes good on a one-year deal to prove he’s the No. 1 receiver. It seems unlikely that he will based on his history.
This offseason should be a wake-up call to Crabtree that he’s simply not as good as he thinks he is. He certainly still belongs in the league, but he won’t last for long if he doesn’t stop questioning his role.