Don’t expect Crabtree to sit out season

I think we can chill on the hysteria about Michael Crabtree holding out the entire season and forgoing his chance to play with the 49ers. We at the National Football Post are not going to be pulling out the scouting reports on Crabtree that were done for the 2009 NFL Draft and recycle them for the 2010 draft. Despite reports to the contrary, rumors of Crabtree spending the season watching, rather than playing in, the NFL are greatly exaggerated.

The situation appears to be one in which “herd” has entered the public debate. Having dealt with professional football players for 20 years from both the agent side and the team side, I have always worried about the herd – also known as the “whisper crew,” “posse,” “enable table” and other names – that surrounds players. The herd can include, although is not limited to parents, friends, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, advisers, spiritual advisers, high school coaches, college coaches, AAU coaches, girlfriends, wives, girlfriends of wives, neighbors, godparents, surrogate parents, life coaches, etc. It’s one thing for an agent and/or a team to deal with a player; it’s quite another to deal with the herd.

Now a member of the Crabtree crew has surfaced in a very public way. When asked about the contract negotiations between Crabtree and the 49ers, a fellow named David Wells – not the former pitcher, although just as outspoken – somehow had a forum with ESPN to give his take on the possibility of Crabtree holding out the entire season:

“We are prepared to do it,” Wells was quoted as saying. “Michael just wants fair market value. They took him with the 10th pick and you have Darrius Heyward-Bey getting $38 million? Michael was one of the best players in the draft and he just wants to be paid like one of the best players.”

Mr. Wells, consider the clock ticking on your 15 minutes of fame. Wells appears to be the epitome of the whisper crew/herd I’ve been speaking about: He’s Crabtree’s cousin (we think) and (self-proclaimed) adviser. Sure he is. Too bad Crabtree isn’t Wells’ self-proclaimed advisee.

My first thought after reading this was that Eugene Parker, Crabtree’s agent, must have had steam coming out of his ears. Parker, who is actively engaged in negotiations with the 49ers, is as professional an agent as there is in the business. Having done a dozen deals with him over the years, including the Jason Peters deal this year, there is no agent who serves his clients as well as Eugene in understanding the sensitive process of negotiating of player contracts. Parker would never say anything to the media that was the least bit inflammatory, and certainly not in the midst of negotiations. Now he has to deal with damage control with the media, the 49ers and the Crabtree herd to put the negotiations back on track.

The 49ers have wisely avoided comment. There is nothing to be gained by responding to a member of Crabtree’s crew, as there may be more of them who may also want a forum in the future.

None of this is to say the negotiations on this contract will end any time soon. Parker is going to push the envelope on this deal to try to nudge as close as possible to Heyward-Bey, and it appears that Crabtree has no problem missing training camp. Indeed, with these negotiations quickly gaining a reputation in the industry as producing a contract that will be a strong deal for the player, the picks surrounding this one – B.J. Raji with the Packers and Aaron Maybin with the Bills among them – are clearly waiting to see the “Crabtree market” before closing their deals (Maybin’s agent has told people this strategy). They may be waiting a while, and it will be up to the players to determine how long is too long.

How long with this one go? The answer will not be in the next day or so, nor will it be the entire season, as the “adviser” suggests. My best guess is that Crabtree reports for labor on Labor Day. Stay tuned.

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