SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After the free agent market stalled, former 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree finally found a home.
He signed with the Oakland Raiders for one year and $3 million, with an extra $2 million in incentives, according to multiple reports coming late Monday. It's a low-risk acquisition for the Raiders, who need a capable receiver to aid in quarterback Derek Carr's development.
The 49ers entered the offseason needing to answer questions at the position. They needed youth and speed, and found a little bit of both in free agent Torrey Smith, 26, who signed for five years and $40 million last month. The 49ers found their deep threat they coveted for years, leaving Crabtree out of their plans.
Crabtree had a hard time endearing himself to the 49ers in the early in his career, stemming from his holdout that saw him miss the first five games of his rookie season. His camp always believed he should have been paid better than the No. 10-overall pick - where the 49ers selected him in 2009 - because he was better than his eventual draft slot.
There's irony in Crabtree going to the Raiders, who passed up him with their seventh pick to speedy wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey, ultimately leading to his holdout with San Francisco.
Six seasons later, Crabtree is headed up Interstate 880 after an uneven career with the 49ers that was marked more by late-season disappointment than triumph. Yes, San Francisco played in three straight conference title games with Crabtree holding a significant role in those offenses. But he will go down in 49ers history as the target of failed touchdown passes at the end of the Super Bowl 47 and following conference title game in Seattle in January 2014.
Those plays are symbolic of the 49ers need for change at the receiving corps. Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, who remains with the team, weren't known for the separation skills. Rather, they made tough catches in traffic thanks to their strong hands.
When Crabtree tore an Achilles tendon in the offseason leading into the 2013 season, it hampered one of his best and most basic skills: his ability to change direction quickly. Both his route running and ability to run after the catch took serious hits. He averaged 4.0 yards after the catch in 2014, his lowest mark since his rookie year, down from 6.4 when he notched his only 1,000-yard season in 2012.
Things looked good for Crabtree in the 2013 playoffs after playing in just five regular season games following his injury. He caught eight balls for 125 yards in the Wild Card win in frigid Green Bay, perhaps helping Boldin notch 136 yards on eight receptions the following week in Carolina.
But in 2014, his contract year, Crabtree struggled to find consistency amid an expanded group of receivers. And now entering 2015 with a new team, the 27-year-old will have to answer questions about foot and leg injuries that have plagued much of his career, and perhaps prevented him from ever becoming the physical presence to match his normally outstanding hands.
It was clear in 2011, when the 49ers lost of the NFC Championship Game to the New York Giants, with Alex Smith completing just one pass to Crabtree for 3 yards, he was never a match with San Francisco's former No. 1-overall pick. And it began to look like Crabtree was on his way to elite receiver status when Kaepernick seized the job midway through 2012, leading to Crabtree's 1,105-yard, nine touchdown finish. He may very well have gotten to the upper tier of NFL wideouts, if not for his Achilles tear in the ensuing offseason.
The unique thing about Crabtree was the way he garnered attention without saying much. He was a quiet presence in the locker room, who seemed to have good rapports with most of his teammates, but commonly rejected fielding questions from the media. When he did speak, he was honest.
Given the nature of his one-year, incentive-laden deal, the Raiders should be getting a receiver with decent upside who fits well with their young quarterback. His physical limitations put a relatively low ceiling on the rest of his career. But if Crabtree can be complimented by an explosive receiver, perhaps through the draft where Oakland selects fourth, he could be a valuable weapon as an underneath target.
Getting Crabtree on a one-year 'prove-it' deal won't keep the Raiders on the hook should he fail to bounce back from his disappointing 2014 season that culminated his 49ers career.