This offseason is fairly significant in terms of free agents given that the 49ers have some fairly significant players looking for a payday. That will carry us through free agency in March and then of course the draft in April. However, once we move into OTAs and training camp, another issue arises. Well, not so much an issue yet, but something that will be on the top of our minds: Michael Crabtree.
While Crabtree did have his struggles in the postseason, he took a solid step forward during the regular season. After Joshua Morgan went down and Braylon Edwards was proving injured and ineffective, Crabtree finished the season as the team's leading receiver. Vernon Davis finished with more touchdowns but Crabtree led the team in receptions, yards and yards per reception. He and Alex seemed to develop a bit of a rapport as the season wore on. Add in his near dominant run blocking, and it was a good season for him. The playoffs were a struggle across the board, but he did sufficiently more good than bad that I think we can take something extremely positive from this season.
Of course, in spite of all that, as we head into the offseason, the most prominent question will be, will Michael Crabtree be a full participant in 2012 training camp? In each of his first three seasons, Crabtree has missed all or a significant chunk of each training camp. His rookie year had the holdout, while his second and third seasons have involved injuries. Given the fight with Vernon Davis his second year, I'm not sure what to make of that. However, the foot issues this past year have been a sufficiently on-going issue that it is not surprising they flared up.
But now that he is coming off his best season as a pro, will Crabtree be able to stay healthy and get through a full training camp? While some receivers can just come in and do their thing with a quarterback, I would argue this season proved it is not quite so simple with Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree. They were looking much sharper in the latter half of the season. Crabtree was getting completely healthy by that point, but he was also getting in all the first team reps with Alex Smith in practice.
While it may only be "practice" I really do think getting in a full training camp would help the offense get off the ground a little sooner than we've seen in season's past. Assuming Alex Smith returns, a full offseason with the Jim Harbaugh offense could mean good things moving forward. I think Michael Crabtree has enough talent to be a solid difference-maker in this offense. Now it's just a matter of taking that next step.
And just to head it off at the pass, no, the team is not going to trade Michael Crabtree this year. Maybe it happens at some point in the future, but it is not happening in 2012. And for those who continue to make the "He wants to be a Cowboy" argument, please don't. Patrick Willis grew up a Cowboys fan and most of the league grew up fans of teams other than where they play. So let's move past that until there is actually reason for that to be a legitimate discussion.