The San Francisco 49ers have an entirely new coaching staff, and unclear identity going forward and 15 players hitting unrestricted free agency. There's also a pair of restricted free agents and two exclusive rights free agents this offseason. A lot has already changed, but despite San Francisco's struggles this past season, I think retaining as much of the roster as possible is key to success going forward.
But they've got some big names hitting the open market among those unrestricted free agents and today we're going to talk about the one who I think is the most polarizing: wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
Crabtree has been a divisive figure ever since the 49ers have drafted him. He held out in his rookie year for a bigger contract, on the basis that the Oakland Raiders are stupid and should have drafted him before San Francisco, and quickly earned the "diva" label from many.
I think that was a little silly, and don't consider him a diva, but after a ton of missed preseason games, injuries and disappointing play, I'm honestly not sure what my actual opinion is when it comes to Crabtree. He's very talented, with some of the best hands in the league and crisp route-running. We can attribute a lot of his lacking play to an absence of emphasis on the passing game, offensive coordinator turnover and questionable quarterback play over the course of his career with the 49ers.
Crabtree never really broke out for the 49ers, but he still managed to be incredibly exciting every time he caught the football. Despite playing with the 49ers since 2009 and only eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark once, I hadn't noticed more than a handful of people getting really discouraged when it came to his ability on the field. Almost everyone here always considered Crabtree a No. 1 receiver who would put up the stats when the rest of the team was ready to help him get there.
Last season, he didn't exactly set the world on fire. He caught 68 passes for 698 yards and four touchdowns, the second receiver in a passing offense that was downright terrible. Colin Kaepernick has a lot of potential and can succeed if the 49ers set him up properly (a dubious suggestion at this point), and I think if Kaepernick is where he needs to be, then Crabtree has a good season. If he's not, he doesn't. It's as simple as that.
But as to what will happen with Crabtree going forward, I think most people expect him to leave. Crabtree probably isn't looking at a massive contract, but he's probably going to get more than the 49ers will offer him, and if a team with a remotely successful quarterback makes him an offer, I think he'll take it.
Why he will return
Well, as noted above, Crabtree's value probably shrank a little after this past season. Some were calling him a franchise tag candidate prior to the start of the 2014-15 season, but after falling short of 700 yards, the market isn't going to be that hot. San Francisco will have a whole lot less to worry about if Crabtree re-signs with the team and they're not totally absent money to spend. A short-term deal isn't the likeliest scenario, but it is the best one in which Crabtree remains in San Francisco. There's also little to no competition for him on the 49ers.
Why he will depart
Crabtree hasn't had a good career thus far. He's dealt with a ton of issues in San Francisco, and seems ready to move on. There will be plenty of people who insist that he never wanted to play in San Francisco, and plenty who will continue to call him a diva. I think it's a lot simpler than that: he's a football player, and football players tend to change teams when they're not finding success in one place. There's a lot of bad blood among fans, but I don't really get it. Crabtree is a very talented receiver who could really flourish in the right system, and the market should be just ripe enough to give him a bigger contract than the 49ers can deliver in said system.
Odds of returning
Five percent? Crabtree is as good as gone at this point. He removed the 49ers from his Twitter bio, which of course we all know is as official as it gets. I know I didn't consider my relationship with my fiancee official until we marked it as such on Facebook, and as I understand it, this is also how things work with football. Crabtree is going to get a good enough deal to head elsewhere.