Programming note: At 4:00 this afternoon watch the debut of 49ers Preview Show on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
SANTA CLARA -- What looked like a distinct long shot when training camp opened is reportedly now a strong possibility.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who proved to be difficult for the 49ers to sign as the No. 10 overall pick in the draft, is making progress on a contract extension that could be signed before the start of the regular season, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported Tuesday evening.
The 49ers have completed deals with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, tackle Joe Staley and nose tackle Glenn Dorsey in the past 2 ½ months. They have also created cap space recently with the shuffling of money on the contracts of NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks.
Before Dorsey’s two-year extension, which was completed on Tuesday, the 49ers were $9.775 million under the NFL’s salary cap. That does not take into account guard Alex Boone’s scheduled $2 million salary because he is currently on the reserve/did not report list as his holdout reaches its fourth week.
Crabtree and guard Mike Iupati are the 49ers who enter the final years of their contracts who would seemingly have the most value on the open market. Upon the opening of training camp, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke made it clear he would like to keep both players around beyond this season.
“We’re going to try,” Baalke said. “We’re going to work at it, certainly. But at some point, you got to stop negotiating deals and let these guys concentrate on playing football. I don’t know what point that is. We’ll make that determination as a club.
“But we’re certainly going to work toward that goal. Those are two very good football players, and guys we’d love to have in this organization for the long term.”
The 49ers undoubtedly feel some pressure to get a deal done with Crabtree due to Kaepernick’s willingness to take less in guaranteed money in order to give the organization more cap space this season to get deals done. Also, the 49ers would not be set up well for the future at wide receiver if Crabtree gets away.
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Before a recent hamstring issue that kept him out of practice for two weeks, Crabtree looked like a No. 1 receiver. If Crabtree were to leave the 49ers, the team would be back in the desperate situation of trying to find another reliable target for Kaepernick.
Due to his injury history, Crabtree is willing to accept a contract that is heavy in incentives, according to the report. Crabtree’s best season was in 2012 when he caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns – with the bulk of his production coming after the quarterback switch to Kaepernick from Alex Smith.
Last year, Crabtree missed the first 11 games due to an offseason Achilles injury. In eight games, including the playoffs, Crabtree caught 34 passes for 487 yards and one touchdown.
"I was fast enough to be on the field,” Crabtree said last week. “But I wasn't me.”
Anquan Boldin, who turns 34 in October, is signed through the 2015 season. Stevie Johnson, acquired in a draft-day trade with the Buffalo Bills, is scheduled to earn $3.925 million this season and more than $6 million in both of the next two seasons. It's not clear, yet, exactly how he will fit into the 49ers' offense. And veteran Brandon Lloyd is on a one-year contract.
The 49ers have recent draft picks Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington under contract for three and four more seasons, respectively.
In his first public comments since the 49ers’ season ended with a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, Crabtree expressed his eagerness to begin his sixth NFL season.
"It's going to be an exciting year,” Crabtree said. “I can't wait to get out there."