Editor’s note: In the lead-up to the NFL draft (May 8-10) bookmark this page to keep tabs on which players the 49ers have had reported contact
The big four of Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, Michael Crabtree and Mike Iupati are entering the final seasons of their original contracts.
Up until two weeks ago, there was no question the 49ers wanted to keep each of those players around far into the future. Now, after Smith’s latest off-field incident, his standing with the organization is on tenuous ground.
The 49ers are undecided whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Smith. Top-flight players do not want the franchise tag. The fifth-year option is for the transition tag of the previous year.
In this case, it’s $9.754 million for the 2015 season. Financially, the 49ers might be doing Smith a huge favor (as long as he does his part and makes a serious commitment to get his off-field life in order.)
If the 49ers do not devote nearly $10 million in 2015 cap dollars to wrap up Smith, it does not mean that another player, such as Crabtree, is a lock to be re-signed.
Crabtree was difficult to sign as a rookie when he and his agent, Eugene Parker, were set on breaking out of the slotting system to get a contract that was not necessarily in line with the No. 10 overall pick.
Crabtree’s contract stalemate caused him to miss the first five games of his regular-season career. That tact backfired for Crabtree and Parker. And, as it turned out, Crabtree signed a six-year contract rather than the standard five-year deal. That’s why he’s still under contract to the 49ers as this season begins.
If Crabtree and Parker wanted absolute top dollar in 2009 before Crabtree ever played a game, it seems unlikely that he would agree to a deal before he had an opportunity to see what other teams are willing to spend.
Crabtree was not fully healthy from offseason Achilles surgery last season. But he still managed to catch 34 passes for 487 yards and one touchdown in eight games, including the playoffs.
Is Crabtree a game-changing, elite wide receiver or is he just very good? Does he deserve an elite paycheck?
Crabtree has one 1,000-yard season in his career. One season removed from his injury, his production this season will set the market for his worth. The team paid Anquan Boldin $6 million a year after he put together the best season from a 49ers wide receiver since Terrell Owens left town.
The 49ers will place a value on Crabtree. And if they conduct business as they have in the past, they are not likely to over-extend just to keep him around in 2016 and beyond.
Here are the top-paid wide receivers (in average per year):
Calvin Johnson (Detroit) $16.207 million
Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona) $16.142 million
Percy Harvin (Seattle) $12.843 million
Mike Wallace (Miami) $12 million
Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City) $11.2 million
Brandon Marshall (Chicago) $11.194 million
Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay) $11.111 million
Andre Johnson (Houston) $10.185 million
Greg Jennings (Minnesota) $9 million
Victor Cruz (N.Y. Giants) $8.6 million
Roddy White (Atlanta) $8.544 million
Pierre Garcon (Washington) $8.5 million
Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh) $8.392 million
DeSean Jackson (Washington) $8 million