Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree is a potential cap casualty following a down year and rumored problems in the locker room. Will Reggie McKenzie release him this offseason?
“Low risk, high reward” were the words often used to describe the signing of then free agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree. At the time, Crabtree was a 27-year old veteran who had been lingering around in free agency for a month with no serious buyers, as there was concern about his failure to live up to expectations as well as complaints about his attitude.
Reggie McKenzie took a flier on him by offering a one-year “prove it” deal — and Crabtree did just that. He did that so well, in fact, that half way through his first season with the Raiders, he was signed to a four-year, $35 million dollar extension. Over his three-year stretch with the organization, Crabtree has caught 232 receptions for 2,543 yards and 25 touchdowns. Crabtree emerged as Carr’s most reliable pass catcher, and his biggest red zone threat. But his third season was a down year, he has struggled with dropped passes, and those concerns about his attitude have crept up once again.
With two more years and a little less than $16M still coming his way, there is plenty of debate about whether the Raiders should hang on to him or if it’s time to part ways.
Reasons To Keep Crabtree
It was the 2016 season opener. After a long fought back and forth between future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and emerging star Derek Carr, the game came down to one play. Carr rifled a pass to Seth Roberts who tumbled his way for a TD. Down by just one point, Jack Del Rio decides to give his QB a chance to win it all and leaves his offense on the field. Who does Carr throw to? Crabtree. Ball game.
Week 7 of the 2017 season — down 30-24 in a “must-win” game to keep playoff hopes alive, Carr manages to move his team down the field to the 1-yard line. After various defensive penalties, the Raiders have one more untimed down to win it all. Who does Carr throw to? Crabtree. Ball game.
The list goes on and on, but the main point remains the same — Crabtree is Carr’s go-to man. Carr has targeted Crabtree 392 times since his signing, which leads all wide receivers on the Raiders roster over that span. Many might point to his regression this past season as a reason to part ways with him, but the offense as a whole regressed — not just Crabtree.
Amari Cooper’s production went from 83 receptions for 1,153 yards in 2016 to just 48 receptions for 680 yards this season. Carr went from throwing 28 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions in 2016 to only 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2017. Crabtree’s decline isn’t an isolated incident, so cutting him loose based on a one-year sample is short-sighted and not an accurate portrayal of how he has performed in Silver and Black.
Reason To Cut Crabtree
“It’s just talk. I don’t worry about talk. Some people say a lot of things, but until you get to know people, you’ll know for yourself.”
Those were the words Crabtree used when asked about the perception around the league that he had an attitude problem. The Raiders certainly got to know him and they found out first hand — the league was right. Whether it was mid-game brawls with Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib or unexplained absences late in games, multiple examples of Crabtree’s attitude problem surfaced. Add that to his age and declining numbers and you have an equation that leads to him being a free agent once again come March.
All of his shortcomings may have been forgiven had Jack Del Rio been retained as head coach. However, Mark Davis fired Jack and replaced him with the one and only Jon Gruden. Assuming Gruden is just as nasty as he was when he last took on the head coaching reigns, this doesn’t bode well for Crabtree.
“’It’s okay, it’s alright!’ Is that what you wanna hear? That’s why you get your a**s in the media room with wide receivers during lunch time every day! I don’t care if like it or not!” is just one example of Gruden’s quotes from the past that show what Crabtree is in store for.
Also, with no dead money and nearly $8M in savings towards the cap if released, the Raiders could cut Crabtree and potentially pursue the likes of Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Donte Moncrief or others in this deep free agent class. With a handful of other alternatives, Oakland can certainly find a younger option to replicate Crabtree’s production for much cheaper.
Not to mention the upcoming wide receiver class. McKenzie could make an early investment at the position if he decides not to sign any of the free agent wide receivers. The point is, the Raiders have multiple options should they decide to cut ties with Crabtree.
This will be a storyline to monitor as the offseason continues. Gruden prefers veteran players with proven production but also likes guys with a strong work ethic, so Crabtree might only check half of the boxes. Whatever happens, the Raiders will be parting ways with several players still under contract, and it would not be surprising if Michael Crabtree is one of them.