Michael Crabtree's First Start Stops the Bleeding In More Ways Than One

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer INovember 1, 2009

Many in the national media and almost everyone around San Francisco have been openly critical of rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree's decision to hold-out for more money. Although I never grappled with the issue directly, I'm definitely and firmly in that group.

The story is old news by now—the kid was arguably the best collegiate wide receiver, got hurt, slid in the draft, the San Francisco 49ers grabbed him at No. 10, Crabtree and an armada of advisers decided he should be paid like a top seven or eight pick, and all manner of insanity followed.

There were allegations that 22-year-old was being led astray by his agent, Eugene Parker, for the glorification of Parker's reputation. There was the ever-helpful Deion Sanders popping off from his podium on the NFL Network about the youngster's financial security. There was a different one of Crabtree's agents boasting the exact same thing.

The New York Jets even nosed their way into the mix when San Francisco filed tampering charges against the East Coast club.

Mercifully, it all came to an end when the wideout inked his belated contract with the Niners. Ultimately, he got $1 million more in guaranteed money ($17 million vs. $16 million). There were also any number of additional mysterious incentives, but the value of those is so unpredictable that they're virtually beside the point.

Regardless, Michael Crabtree was officially a San Francisco 49er!

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By the Bay, you could hear the crickets chirping.

No trumpets blaring, no red carpets being rolled out for the savior, and certainly no fan-base drooling with anticipation of seeing their new toy. The squad was a Brett Favre, desperation heave away from being 4-0 and sitting atop its division. The Niners had already taken out the defending National Football Conference champion and division rival Arizona Cardinals on the road in addition to both of their other division opponents.

The faithful had better things to focus on than a self-entitled, self-centered prima donna who'd finally relented to gracing the City with his presence on the football field.

Then, the guys got smashed by the Atlanta Falcons and the team headed into its bye week with too many emergency lights flashing for anyone to give much thought to Crabtree. A 45-10 mauling by a good-not-great adversary tends to do that.

With all hands on deck to right the Niner ship, the rookie's first start—against the Houston Texans coming out of the bye—didn't play out to a whole lot of hype or fanfare. Followers heard plenty about how many snaps Crabtree would take and that he'd be challenged to prove his opinion of himself immediately, but that was mostly local noise directly from Mike Singletary's mouth. In other words, the national radar blip was small.

Consequently, there haven't been too many demands for those in the media who fed at the Crabtree holdout trough to make amends. Well, let me be one of the first to fall on my sword (although it's infinitely charitable to call me part of "the media").

In Week Seven against the Texans, the burner caught five of six looks for 56 yards and participated in 48 of 54 offensive snaps. That's no small accomplishment in your first National Football League action (as far as I can tell). What's more, the live-and-in-color version was even more impressive than the box score because not all of the catches were easy.

Several times, Crabtree yanked in the back-end of the ball and secured tough offerings. He routinely snatched the pigskin with just his hand, which seems to be the way guys who don't drop the thing do it.

Most importantly, the speedster gave the 49ers another threat with his athleticism and ability to draw coverage. Placed alongside Frank Gore and a developing game-changer in Vernon Davis, the dynamic receiver probably deserves a good amount of credit for the dramatically different Alex Smith we saw against Houston.

It might not be a momentary aligning of the planets, either.

Alex Smith's talent has never been the problem—it was always a matter of his confidence and the talent around him. Neither were very good, but an improvement in the latter can quickly raise the former.

It'll be a tough to tell with a Week Eight assignment against the juggernaut Indianapolis Colts, but we've already seen signs of a change.

Which means Michael Crabtree gets his just desserts.

The decision to holdout was and will always be an exercise in stupidity and counterproductive greed, but the kid can play. At least between the sidelines, Michael Crabtree's arrogance and swagger looks to be plenty justified. It was only a single game, but he looked special.

And 'special' heals all wounds.