49ers, Crabtree getting closer
Another chapter in the long-running spring/summer/fall series “The Crabtree Files” is being written. After more than a month of intransigence and deafening silence between the negotiating parties, there are reports -- which I’ve confirmed -- of a meeting that will include all the decision-makers: the 49ers front office, the player and his agent.
Eugene Parker, the maddeningly patient and professional negotiator for Crabtree, has traveled from Fort Wayne, Ind., to San Francisco to meet his client, who is flying in from Florida and has been in hiding with his best friend and trainer for weeks. They will first meet together, map out their strategy, then visit with the 49ers in Palo Alto. My sense is that Parker will meet with the 49ers’ negotiating team while Crabtree will visit with the coaches and/or head coach Mike Singletary.
Many are theorizing about the likely result of these negotiations. I’ve heard many say that this is a sign the Crabtree camp will “cave” and agree to what has been on the table for weeks, or even less. I wouldn’t be so sure of that.
This meeting will be a meeting to get it done. Parker is too smart to have Crabtree fly out if an end is not in sight. He’s also using Crabtree’s presence strategically, subtly inferring to the team that it shouldn’t let the player leave town again (which he has no intention of doing).
Both sides must stretch some if they’re going to make a deal. The question will become which side will get caught up in the emotion of making it and, in the heat of the moment, go past their longstanding limits on this deal.
My sense is that this meeting is truly about saving face. The 49ers don’t want to look bad among their peers for jumping the slot ahead of them (B.J. Raji of the Packers) and setting that precedent for future first-round picks, of which they already have two in 2010.
Parker and Crabtree don’t want to have their noses rubbed in a deal they turned down weeks ago and are hopeful for some movement to seal the relationship moving forward and away from the past. They will look to walk away from this arm in arm, spouting the platitudes at the press conference about how happy they are to get it done, how everyone is moving forward and so on.
The area of the contract that will be adjusted is the back side. The front side of the contract -- bonus, guarantees, salaries, options, etc. -- has been and will continue to be limited by what has been done around Crabtree, especially the Raji contract. Parker has been doing this long enough to know that.
It’s the upside of the deal that Parker and Crabtree will try to use to move closer to the Darrius Heyward-Bey contract, the deal that has complicated this negotiation since the day the Raiders made it. Parker did a magical job with this type of contract for Larry Fitzgerald years ago and has been trying to replicate that feat.
As we have noted, with the conservative offense of 49ers coordinator Jimmy Raye, the threshold levels for yards, catches and touchdowns and the corresponding amounts by which the contract escalates have been a major sticking point in the negotiation. My sense is that those will be adjusted in the interest of getting this deal done.
Crabtree will likely be on the practice field this week, although the league will probably grant the 49ers a roster exemption due to the amount of time he’s missed.
Yes, I agree with everyone’s comments that this deal should have been done weeks ago. There were complicating factors here: the Heyward-Bey deal, the interest in Crabtree from other teams, the involvement of another agent group trying to leverage their relationship with the 49ers and more.
Soon this may all be history -- and yes, even forgotten (after a few touchdown passes).
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