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More on Crabtree and 49ers

Money moves around the league. Andrew Brandt

Print This September 21, 2009, 11:56 AM EST

Hopefully, my look inside the 49ers-Michael Crabtree negotiations on Friday proved the point that it’s not as simple as “slotting the pick” and filling in the numbers accordingly. This one is complicated for a few reasons, some of which we discussed then.

In negotiating the contract for Jeremy Maclin, the wide receiver taken after Crabtree in the first round (albeit nine picks later), one of the difficulties was that the selection was sandwiched in the first round by players who were defensive linemen, offensive linemen, a tight end, a quarterback, etc. Should that matter, you ask? For the purposes of base contract and guaranteed money, not really. The player is picked where he’s picked; it’s of no import -- except for a quarterback -- what position he plays.

The place it matters is upside, i.e., escalators. It’s challenging to equate the level of difficulty of the escalator to players in entirely different positions where statistical accomplishments -- very important to a wide receiver -- are largely irrelevant, save for sacks. The primary escalation marker for many positions is playing time, not directly relevant to a receiver.

Similar challenges have been present in the Crabtree drama. Directly above him are linemen B.J. Raji of the Packers and Eugene Monroe of the Jaguars, whose upside is based primarily on playing time. Above those picks is the much-discussed Darrius Heyward-Bey deal with the Raiders, whose contract the Crabtree camp is trying hard to latch on to for obvious reasons. Although it will be extremely difficult to approach the hard numbers of the Heyward-Bey contract, it’s the escalator that Crabtree’s camp argues should be the apples-to-apples comparison.

Heyward-Bey’s contract has a base value of $38 million, almost $16 million more than the pick above Crabtree, Raji at $22M. While Raji has been the marker used by the 49ers -- a reasonable data point for both sides -- Heyward-Bey has been a focal point for the other side.

Heyward Bey’s contract value goes to nearly $41M for 60 catches one time in his first four years; it escalates to over $43M for 60 catches twice. Crabtree has taken notice. While he makes the argument that this contract should be a key data point because of the position the players play, especially regarding upside, the 49ers point to the fact that the deal is three picks away, buffered by two deals in between. Another dynamic appears to be one first written about by Mike Sando of ESPN and discussed here at the NFP by my colleague Brad Biggs: the lack of production of wide receivers in offenses run by 49ers coordinator Jimmy Raye. Just as opponents have scouting reports on whom they’re playing, agents have scouting reports on philosophies of coordinators that affect the earning potential of clients. As Sando and Biggs pointed out, in Raye’s 12 previous seasons as an offensive coordinator, only twice has a wide receiver reached 1,000 yards, and only twice has a wide receiver had more than 64 receptions. To put that in perspective, 22 receivers had more than 1,000 yards last season and 30 had more than 64 receptions.

In the Maclin negotiation, the concern about escalators from the Maclin camp was that even though the Eagles pass as much as any team in the league, they spread the ball around, lessening the chances for dramatic impact of the escalators. In the case of Crabtree, the concern is simply the run-oriented style of attack being used by the 49ers.

Like Maclin, the Crabtree talks are complicated by factors beyond the base contract and the guarantee. Upside is key to any contract, especially first-round contracts. And slotting is in play here, but slotting against whom? The picks next to Crabtree, or the wide receiver three picks away? The drama continues.

Yet another complicating factor is what may have been said to Crabtree about his contractual value in the event he sits out this season and enters the 2010 draft. While most feel he would be making a huge financial mistake sitting out this year, it’s something no one can be sure of. Now reports have surfaced that tampering may have been a factor in the negotiations and has been alleged by the 49ers. This is yet another twist to this saga.

With the games on the field beginning, it hasn’t stopped the action off the field in front offices and the business of football. Here are some recent moves that have been engineered over the past couple of weeks around the league:

Arizona
Adrian Wilson converted $3M of his $8.5M salary into signing bonus, prorated for salary cap purposes, to lower his present cap charge while raising his future cap amounts.
To be clear, let’s dispel two myths about this contract: (1) that Wilson sacrificed money to help the team, and (2) that this restructure foreshadows a pending contract extension for Anquan Boldin.

Wilson’s restructure simply gives the Cardinals breathing room for the season, not additional resources to address his deal. As with the earlier Larry Fitzgerald restructure by the Cardinals, they’re worried about cap and cash flow right now, not a big new contract for Boldin.

New Orleans
Drew Brees restructured his contract to provide the Saints with some much-needed cap relief, converting over half of his $9.8M salary into signing bonus. He’ll make the same amounts over the next three years and have the same cash flow while giving the Saints $3.4M of additional cap room this year, putting them at $5.5M of available room to last the season.

Carolina
A.J. Feeley received $50,000 to sign. The only team in the NFL under the Mendoza line of $1M of Cap room, look for the Panthers to try to restructure a contract or two soon since we’re in a season where all earned incentives are going to count on the cap when earned -- unlike previous years -- due to next year being uncapped.

Philadelphia
Jeff Garcia also received $50,000 to sign and a two-game guarantee of salary. The amount is moot, however, because Garcia, as a vested veteran, is guaranteed at least one-quarter of the 10-year minimum salary, an amount worth approximately $211,000.

Indianapolis
Hank Baskett, released by the Eagles and unclaimed due to his $1.545-million salary (the restricted free-agent tender for the second-round draft compensation) was given a $100,000 bonus to sign with the Colts after being pursued by the Rams and a couple of other teams.

And here are some players who took pay cuts prior to the start of the season, avoiding release by their teams:

- Sean Jones, Eagles
- Ryan Denney, Bills
- Cornell Green and Paul McQuistan, Raiders
- Jamar Nesbit, Saints.

All of these reductions were in the $500,000 range. The players made the decision that, in this economy, it’s better to be working at a reduced rate than maybe not working at all.

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