Normally, the unpredictable football decisions of Al Davis adversely affect only the team he owns, the bumbling Oakland Raiders.
The NFL’s other 31 teams often benefit from his strange personnel moves, which allow talented draft picks and free agents to slide to them.
In April, the cross-bay San Francisco 49ers rejoiced when the Raiders selected wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes) seventh overall. It allowed the Niners to select Michael Crabtree(notes), a pass-catching machine out of Texas Tech, at No. 10. Predraft hype rated Crabtree higher than Heyward-Bey.
Now the Niners’ dream pick has turned nightmare. In a convoluted strategy, Crabtree is threatening to sit out the 2009 season by negotiating off mock drafts which didn’t occur rather than the real one that did.
Crabtree has decided that he shouldn’t have to be paid less because – based on all the made-up, predicted drafts – Al Davis made a mistake. He wants to be paid more than Heyward-Bey, demanding his contract reflect that it was actually he who was the higher selected receiver.
It’s a ground-breaking, if intellectually bankrupt, concept.
Crabtree’s camp said Thursday that he is even willing to sit out the year and re-enter the draft next spring unless he gets more than the $23.5 million the Raiders guaranteed Heyward-Bey. The news was first reported by profootballtalk.com. Anything less than that stratospheric number is “unacceptable.”
“We are prepared to do it,” David Wells, a cousin of Crabtree, told ESPN. “Michael just wants fair market value. Michael is one of the best players in the draft, and he just wants to be paid like one of the best players.”
The ridiculousness of a guy who’s never caught a professional pass deeming $20-something million “unacceptable” is a testament to the troublesome way the NFL pays its rookies. A sense of youthful entitlement combines with a flawed structure so that the unproven rookie often makes more than the veteran All-Pro.
While NFL players tend to earn their money – a disturbing percentage leave the game as near-cripples dealing with neurological problems – Crabtree would be best served getting to camp and focusing on the tens of millions he will earn rather than the few more he may not.
More intriguing, however, is what Crabtree is trying to pull. Contract negotiations and holdout threats aren’t new. This is. It isn’t just an unorthodox attempt to bypass the traditional (if unofficial) slotting of rookie salaries. It’s putting real value on the unreal speculation that surrounds the buildup to the draft.
Crabtree is trying to get paid off perception, not reality.
Pre-draft hype has grown exponentially over the years. What was once the domain of only hard-core fans has taken on a life of its own. All forms of media dedicate enormous resources to it. The Internet is awash in mock drafts. The draft itself has become a major event in its own right. Next April, the first round will move to Thursday prime time – where it will, no doubt, pull monster television ratings.
Still, as fun and harmless as it is to follow the various prognostications, all of it remains conjecture.
Perhaps Crabtree isn’t aware that even though ESPN will deem sportswriter speculation on “Who will the Raiders pick?” a “Cold Hard Fact,” it is, in fact, not.
Not only is none of the pre-draft coverage “real” – there is no reason to believe it is accurate.
Since there is virtually no benefit for a team to publicly disclose their honest opinions of players, teams blatantly lie about their plans. Why wouldn’t they? Everything you hear should first be assumed inaccurate, not something you can later use in contract negotiations.
The rest of the coverage and discussion that lead up to the draft is opinion – opinion based mostly on pathetically thin research.
Crabtree may indeed be a better player than Heyward-Bey, however much of the public and media sentiment to that regard is because Crabtree played on a high-profile Texas Tech team and scored a dramatic touchdown to upset Texas. Heyward-Bey, meanwhile, played on a fairly anonymous Maryland club.
Just because fans and media – very few of whom watch even a smidgen of tape, have access to team scouting reports or even comprehend the game of football all that well – were more excited about Crabtree means absolutely nothing.
Even if you could prove (and you can’t) that 31 NFL teams felt the same way, it wouldn’t matter. The draft isn’t about consensus opinions; it’s about the decision of each individual franchise.
In this case, the Raiders believed Heyward-Bay was better than Michael Crabtree and they put an oversized contract behind it. That was the only actual, factual thing that occurred. Whether everyone disagreed with Al Davis or whether his recent track record is sketchy doesn’t matter.
The pick is the pick.
Crabtree apparently operates in a world ruled by Mel Kiper Jr. He wants to be paid based on what was wrongly predicted to occur rather than what actually did. In his mind, he was the first receiver drafted, even if he wasn’t.
Talk about your mock drafts.