Wednesday whys: Does Crabtree have alternatives?

Why isn’t it surprising that the 49ers are alleging tampering by other teams with Michael Crabtree?

Unlike free agents who have options, a draft choice like Crabtree has no alternative other than to play for the team that selects him. Yes, a team can trade the player's rights up until the now-moot deadline of Aug. 14, but the player's rights are always controlled by the drafting team, unlike free agency, when all bets are off the table when the clock strikes midnight in late February.

Crabtree's only alternative to signing a contract the 49ers is to hope the team trades his rights in March or wait until next the 2010 NFL Draft, a strategy that many have thought to be a career-killer. Why, one would reasonably ask, would a player turn down guaranteed money in the $17-million range and an APY (average per year) of over $4 million to roll the dice on an uncertain future? The most likely answer is that another team has intimated in subtle (or not-so-subtle) terms that if Crabtree takes that alternative, he will not regret it financially.

I have no knowledge that this has happened with Crabtree (although NFL Network’s Deion Sanders seems to). I do know that there were a couple of teams picking ahead of the 49ers in the draft that had intense internal debates while on the clock about taking Crabtree or taking the player they eventually took. It makes sense that the executives or scouts who were standing on the table for Crabtree in April would still love to have him. And I also know that there were a couple of teams that tried in vain to secure Crabtree’s rights prior to Aug. 14. Those trade discussions were rebuffed by the 49ers. They want the player they drafted at the 10th pick. That’s the asset they want, not another draft choice or player.

The 49ers, who were disciplined with a forfeited draft choice for tampering with Bears linebacker Lance Briggs in 2007, apparently have suspicions about other clubs' communication with Crabtree and agent Eugene Parker. Their feeling is that Crabtree's reluctance to take a "slotted deal" from the 49ers is not simply a function of protracted negotiations; there may more issues in play relating to other alternatives he has or thinks he might have.

The league will investigate; we will continue to follow.

Why, in addition to other teams possibly being involved with Crabtree, might there also be other agents involved?

The agent business, a business I was in for 10 years, doesn’t exactly have the cleanest reputation. Players are constantly being recruited by agents; the fact they’re already being represented is secondary. Ten years ago, I lost Ricky Williams to Master P after two years of spending every other week in Austin, Texas, recruiting and working with him.

As we reported today, Crabtree is still being recruited, with a certain agent group in particular trying to whisper in his ear with promises of getting him what he wants with the 49ers and trading on a strong relationship with the team. Crabtree will not be leaving Parker, to the chagrin of competing agents, but that won't stop them from trying.

As for Crabtree, he’s hidden away in a remote location with a trainer, waiting for the smoke to clear.

Why are the NFL Players Association and Players, Inc. raising their dues for each player from $10,000 to $15,000?

The union is having its players start to stockpile funds in case of a protracted conflict with management in 18 months. This is the first concerted step from the players' side showing that the specter of the NFL locking them out when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2010 season is not fiction. It’s not reality yet, but the union is taking concrete steps to prepare.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the debate, the NFL has been writing its internal contracts to buffer itself from certain financial commitments. Although no club has put "lockout language" in any player contracts, we are now seeing it in the contracts of front office executives and coaches. The language lessens or voids the obligation of the team to continue payroll payments to football operations staff in the event there is no football. Again, it’s another indicator that a lockout in 2011 is possible.

The league has been advising clubs about financial protections for 2011 for some time, moves that are precautionary and preparatory at this point.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith have been negotiating largely in the media and not with each other. However, there does appear to be some thaw occurring, with a joint announcement affirming the strength of the CBA’s testing policy in light of the Williams case in Minnesota and a bargaining meeting scheduled for Tuesday that could flesh out some things.

Why was the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pointing out how much money the team has spent on contracts with players?

The Bucs are the overwhelming league leader in salary-cap room, weighing in with $29 million of space, far ahead of the next teams – the Packers ($18M), the Chiefs ($16M) and the Bears and Browns($15M). They’ve been trying to find ways to use their ample cap room, even structuring the contract of first-round pick Josh Freeman to take a 2009 cap reallocation charge of $6.2M, a hit in addition to their rookie pool charge. They were one of only two teams in the league (the Chiefs being the other) to take such a charge.

General manager Mark Dominik, defending the large amount of cap room, responded to concerns from fans and media in a recent article, saying, “Jeff Faine became the highest-paid center in the league. We went after Derrick Ward and made him the highest-paid free-agent running back. Kellen Winslow set a new bar for tight ends. Franchising Antonio Bryant wasn't a low number. We paid Luke McCown a signing bonus and still traded him because we felt it was in the best interests of the Buccaneers.”

Dominik’s comments are interesting because if the Buccaneers were not flush with cap room and very low in the league in payroll this season, there would be criticism of these deals and the commitments made to these players. Yet Dominik is putting these deals out there front and center to show the franchise’s commitment to winning, albeit with deals that may turn out to be questionable uses of their resources.

To be clear, though, the Bucs are not in danger of failing to spend to the required minimum cap figure in the NFL this season, an amount of $109M. That number was set based off the actual 2009 NFL cap of $123M. The Bucs, however, brought forward so much cap into this year that their adjusted cap was around $148M. This is how they can be $30M under the cap yet still spend the cap minimum.

Another example of how cap spending and cash spending in the NFL can be dramatically different.

And for my Pet Peeve Why of the Week:

Why do players such as Nick Barnett of the Packers and Robert Henson of the Redskins tweet angry messages to fans after receiving negative feedback?

I know Nick well and became close to him in Green Bay. I always tried to get him to put a filter on his thoughts before they came out in spoken word or print (or tweet). As for Henson, a sixth-round pick of the Redskins, he has become known for his Twittering more than his play, not a good way to start a career. Tweeting, Facebooking or emailing are like ringing a doorbell; once rung, you can’t un-ring it. It’s a lesson for all of us before hitting send.

< p>Join me for a chat today at 3:30 p.m. to talk about Crabtree and many more topics.

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