Michael Crabtree did not exactly get off on the right foot with the 49ers as the 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft.
He appeared destined to go to the Raiders at pick No. 7. But the late Al Davis always had an affinity for speed. Crabtree, who was never known as a speedster, never ran a 40-yard dash before the draft due to a foot fracture.
Darrius Heyward-Bey ended up with the Raiders. Three picks later, the 49ers selected Crabtree, a player then-general manager Scot McCloughan thought might end up being the best player in the draft.
The two major knocks on Crabtree as he entered the NFL were his speed and his attitude. Reports surfaced that multiple teams that visited with him prior to the draft described him as a “diva.”
He did nothing to dispel that reputation when he and his agent, Eugene Parker, took a seemingly unreasonable stance that Crabtree should receive a contract worthy of a higher draft pick because, well, he was drafted later than he should’ve been drafted.
The 49ers were patient and were not going to set a precedent of caving into a player’s request to be paid outside of his slot.
Finally, MC Hammer acted as a go-between to get the sides to the negotiating table at the Four Seasons in East Palo Alto after the 49ers had already played four games.
Instead of the five-year contract that first-round draft picks were signing, Crabtree was forced to sign a six-year deal. He sat out one more game, then entered the starting lineup after the bye week.
When Crabtree was healthy, he remained in the starting lineup throughout his 49ers tenure. But, ultimately, it was a slew of injuries and the 49ers’ lack of a prolific passing game that prevented Crabtree any chance at the NFL stardom the 49ers envisioned for him – and the stardom he envisioned for himself.
Due to the contract stalemate, a neck injury one year and another fractured foot in 2011, Crabtree did not see any action in training camp until 2012. That was also his best season, as he thrived after the switch was made from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick. He never clicked with Smith and was as happy as anyone to see the change, especially after being targeted five times and catching just one pass for 3 yards in the NFC Championship game loss to the New York Giants.
Everything was pointed in the right direction after the 2012 season – even after the three failed passes to him at the goal line in Super Bowl XLVII – until a routine offseason workout in Santa Clara during which he sustained a torn Achilles.
Crabtree returned for the final five regular-season games and three playoff games and was surprisingly productive. Again, his season ended in disappointment when Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman had him blanketed on a double-move and tipped the ball away for what resulted in the clinching play of the 49ers’ loss in the NFC Championship game.
Privately, coaches believed Crabtree was not running well and thought he was going to have a big season in 2014. But Crabtree looked as if he took a step backward at a time when he should've been getting noticeably better.
Crabtree was clearly frustrated with his role in the 49ers’ offense last season. Long-time Crabtree confidante, Deion Sanders, told viewers on the NFL Network that the players wanted Jim Harbaugh out as coach. Both Sanders and Crabtree publicly denied Crabtree was the source.
Crabtree played in all 16 games last season, but left one game for a while with an apparent foot injury. Anquan Boldin gained the trust of Kaepernick. Crabtree struggled to get open. And when he was open, Kaepernick did not feed him the ball.
In his best three games, Crabtree accounted for 85, 82 and 80 yards receiving. He had four games in which he produced fewer than 20 yards. His average reception dropped to 10.3 yards.
His stock as a free-agent wide receiver plummeted, as well.
It was clear Crabtree had no intention of returning to the 49ers under any circumstances despite the coaching change. Certainly, the words of general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York that the 49ers were intent on being a running team weren't exactly what the wide receiver wanted to hear.
The 49ers moved on at the opening of the free-agent signing period with the signing of speedy Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million contract.
On Monday, Crabtree signed a one-year deal with the Raiders.
And, again, the 49ers are in the market for a young wide receiver with a high draft pick – just as they were in 2009 when Crabtree entered the picture.