Good Luck to Crabtree; He’s Gonna Need It

The NFL season is two games old, and, needless to say, there have been some surprises.  The Jets look great, Tom Brady looks human, and Michael Crabtree hasn’t signed. 

I guess that last one should not surprise anyone. 

Crabtree’s failing to sign and report to camp is a screaming message to the pro leagues that reform is needed in the way players are paid.  This guy played for a second tier school, Texas Tech, came out early, and is demanding a lot more money than he may be worth.  That word “may” is the problem.  Crabtree might be the kind of player that can set all kinds of receiving records, break Jerry Rice’s record for touchdown catches, and lead a floundering team to a Super Bowl title.  Or he could be a multi-million dollar bust.  No one knows.  Not Mike Singletary, San Francisco’s coach.  Not the media.  Not even Crabtree himself. 

The problem is a symptom that is most directly caused by the NFLPA’s lack of attention it gives to veterans of the league.  Crabtree’s mentality is to get all he can RIGHT NOW because he may get injured and be out of luck in a year or two.  Or a game or two.  Maybe if the union took care of veteran players, some of these guys might actually be reasonable when they signed on as rookies.  Probably not, but maybe.  And the winners in this would be the teams and the fans, as well as the players themselves.

Let’s face it.  A lot of people look at pro athletes and can’t get their brain around the idea of getting paid $50 million to play a kid’s game.  The idea that an unproven rookie will get more fans in the stadium is wrought with flaws.  If the players plays well and the team wins, more people will watch.  If the player is a prima donna and a clubhouse distraction, people will quickly tire of his antics and he’ll get negative attention. 

The Crabtree situation can be easily solved.  Pay rookies a league minimum.  The teams can negotiate performance-based contracts with players to their heart’s content, but the base salary is what it is for two seasons.  At that point, after the player has a book of stats and two season’s experience under his belt, the team and the player are dealing with a known quantity and can make a deal that’s fair to the player and the team.  Baseball has this kind of system and lower payroll teams, like the Atlanta Braves, can compete with higher payroll teams, like the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Braves even beat the Yankees when they came to town in June.  It can be done.

But I would not expect anything like this anytime soon, because players, especially football players, know that every snap, practice, scrimmages, and games, could be their last.  Until they have a safety net in place in case of injury, they won’t be interested in being fair to anyone but themselves. 

I know, I know.  If they make $2 million dollars in their first two seasons, how can they not provide their own safety net?  Answer:  they are kids.  Like any other kid, they don’t look to the future, or think they can be hurt, except when they are negotiating a salary.  A lot of these kids come from backgrounds of poverty, and feel the need to rescue their families and friends from bad situations.  An admirable ideal, but one that must be balanced with how it affects the future of the player.

Crabtree is losing in more ways than one.  He passed up the rest of his college career, so he doesn’t have a full education.  All he can do right now is play ball.  Not exactly a shining start of a productive life for a young man.

Michael, play ball.  Not next year.  This year.  Show the team and the fans that you aren’t a profiteer, that you are a football player who is interested in helping the 49ers win a Super Bowl.  This stunt will cost you millions, both this year and in next year’s draft.  Who will take a chance on you next time around?  Maybe Detroit.  You wanna play in Detroit? 

Good luck, Mike.  You are going to need it.


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