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Insider

Crabtree saga, Mangini and Tennessee's D

9/27/2009

Let's start with the obvious. San Francisco no longer can trade Michael Crabtree this season. Not even after it signs him, if it can.

The collective bargaining agreement clearly says if a player has not signed 30 days before the season -- which in this case would have been Aug. 14 -- his team is forbidden from trading him in that league year.

Also, if Crabtree is traded after March 5, 2010 -- the first date the 49ers can trade his rights to another team -- and he signs with another team, his contract would be a part of the 2010 rookie pool, and it would be up to the new team to squeeze in Crabtree's contract with those from the rest of the 2010 rookie class.

Now on to the less obvious but more compelling point. If Crabtree signs after this season with the 49ers or with another team that trades for his rights, he will be paid the minimum base salary for rookies -- $320,000 next season -- and have the bulk of his money paid in Not Likely To Be Earned incentives, which is the way teams guarantee most money to rookies these days. Those incentives won't be achieved, however, until the 2010 season has ended and won't be paid out until the next league year in 2011. Thus, Crabtree might have to wait until 2011 to cash in.

However, there is a chance there could be a work stoppage in 2011. So it also is possible -- although no one can say how likely -- that if Crabtree re-enters the NFL draft in 2010, he would not collect the bulk of the money on his first NFL contract until 2012. Signing with the 49ers now would land Crabtree an immediate bonus and allow him to trigger the Not Likely To Be Earned incentives by the end of the 2009 season, enabling him to be paid in 2010. This is why some pundits have predicted Crabtree will sign on or before Nov. 17, the last day he can sign to still play this season.

But these are all parts of the gamble each side is taking by not consummating a contract. The 49ers don't get their standout wide receiver, and the standout wide receiver doesn't get paid for 18 to 30 months.

To read Adam Schefter's thoughts on Eric Mangini plus notes on quarterback situations in Detroit and Kansas City and more on Adrian Peterson, you must be an ESPN Insider.Insider

Mangini and Cleveland's concerns

Last week, Browns coach Eric Mangini addressed fining one of his players $1,701 for not paying the hotel bill for a $3 bottle of water. Now, some of Mangini's players are addressing the fines in their own way.

To protest Mangini's fines of players, two grievances already have been filed with the NFL Players Association, a league source said, and three more are in the process of being filed on behalf of Browns players. Altogether, at least five grievances will be filed within the next 24 to 48 hours, and one NFLPA source predicted more could be coming.

Mangini has fined players for such offenses as not paying their hotel bills, parking in the wrong spots and having their cell phones go off during meetings. Mangini is trying to deploy structure and discipline to the Browns, just as he did with the Jets in New York, where he encountered similar circumstances.

An NFLPA source said multiple Jets filed grievances against Mangini, but Mangini has said he won each of those grievances.

In the beginning of the season, Mangini passed out rules to the players regarding what they could and couldn't do. Each of the fines he has imposed is for something players were warned they couldn't do. It is why the Browns organization believes it will prevail in its grievances, and why what it is doing is necessary to get it operating in a proper and efficient manner.

But it also has bewildered and frustrated many players, especially when the team is not winning. If the team were 2-0 instead of 0-2, perhaps some of this discipline would be overlooked, if not forgotten. But when a team is losing, it is fairly easy for a segment of players to grow increasingly disenchanted.

Now the Browns have more grievances than W's -- and that picture might not change this season.

QB issues in Detroit/K.C.

Questions were raised this week in Detroit and Kansas City about how long each team would stick with its starting quarterback.

But after speaking to members of each organization this weekend, neither starting quarterback -- Matthew Stafford nor Matt Cassel -- is anywhere close to losing his job.

The Lions have not discussed any changes at quarterback, nor do they plan to do so. When Lions coach Jim Schwartz went with Stafford, he did not do so on an interim basis. They are sticking with Stafford.

It is a similar story in Kansas City, where head coach Todd Haley said during the week every player had to play well to keep his job. But keep in mind, Haley learned under Bill Parcells, who rarely was light on any of his players and never assured a quarterback a job was his.

However, the Chiefs believe Cassel will be a "very good quarterback for a very long time." So any speculation about Stafford or Cassel losing his job is just that -- speculation not based on fact.

Tennessee's defensive adjustments

Tennessee piled up four sacks against Pittsburgh in the opener, then none this past Sunday against Houston.

Part of the problem is that the Titans are without Albert Haynesworth. But more disturbing is the fact that defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch has yet to record any sacks, and hasn't come close to getting one.

Vanden Bosch, 30, played 65 percent of the Titans' plays against Pittsburgh, then 75 percent against the Texans. Some around the league suspect he no longer is the player he once was.

If this is true, it means Tennessee will operate this season and future ones without Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch, who for years has been one of the league's elite pass-rushers and an inspirational force.

Without the type of formidable pass rush they're used to getting, the Titans have surrendered seven plays of 29 yards or more this season. Additionally, three receivers have had 100-yard games against Tennessee this season as opposed to last, when there were only two all season.

Now the Titans need two former draft picks, defensive ends William Hayes and Jacob Ford, to develop into the type of pass-rushers Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch once were. Maybe Vanden Bosch can regain his Pro Bowl form this season, which would come at a key time with his contract being up after this season. But if he can't, Tennessee's poor pass defense might continue to struggle the way it has the first two weeks of the season.

Counterterrorism

As counterterrorism officials warned about terrorist interest in sports stadiums, the NFL was taking steps to calm those fears.

The NFL's security department sent a note this week to each of the 32 teams alerting them that although there was no specific threat to any stadium, sporting events always are a concern.

"We are aware of the memos from the federal government, including that there is no information specific to any sports stadium," an NFL official said this week. "This underscores the importance of the high levels of stadium security that are maintained and will continue to be maintained at every NFL game for the safety of our fans and teams."

Yet anyone attending NFL games Sunday and throughout the season should expect more thorough pat-downs and investigations.

Last week, the FBI and Homeland Security Department sent two bulletins to police around the country saying they know of no specific plots against such sites, but that stadiums remain attractive targets to groups such as al-Qaida.

The memos did not mention the ongoing high-profile investigation of a possible terrorist plot involving a Colorado man and associates in New York City. Instead, they describe the long-standing interest of terrorists in using homemade backpack bombs, car bombs or even airplanes to attack crowded public places.

The Buffalo RB situation

Buffalo gets a boost at running back Monday, when Marshawn Lynch is scheduled to be reinstated and return from his three-game suspension.

Yet even after he's back, he will share the starting job that once belonged to him. Bills running back Fred Jackson has played so well in Lynch's absence that Buffalo plans to feature both in the coming weeks. And why not? In last week's home opener, Jackson rushed for 163 yards.

Buffalo doesn't expect to have one starting running back -- it will be more like Back 1 and Back 1A, an approach that more and more NFL teams have used in recent seasons. It almost was that way in Buffalo last season, when Jackson got plenty of work. But now it will be more evenly distributed, with the two backs -- each popular in the Bills' locker room -- getting their carries.

Niners versus Vikings

Attention is showered on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, running back Adrian Peterson and even rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin. Few realize that for each of the past three seasons -- one under former Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, the past two under current defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier -- Minnesota has fielded the NFL's No. 1-ranked rushing defense.

The same rush defense has gone 25 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

Yet this season, it ranks only 15th in the league against the run, is missing some tackles and gets the ultimate test Sunday, when it faces San Francisco running back Frank Gore.

The Vikings are leery of Gore's superb vision and him getting to the second level, where his speed shines. Frazier has warned his defenders all week not to allow Gore to get past Minnesota's first line of defense. If Gore does, Minnesota's win streak and streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher could end. If Gore doesn't, Minnesota's streaks will go on.

Sharper and Owens

A reunion of sorts will be held Sunday in Buffalo, where Saints safety Darren Sharper helps cover Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens.

Back in a 1999 NFC divisional-round playoff game when he played for San Francisco, in what might be the signature catch of his career, Owens caught a winning 25-yard touchdown pass against a group of Packers defenders that included Darren Sharper.

Now Sharper, 33, has been one of the keys to the Saints' resurgent defense, producing key interceptions that have been the hallmark of his Pro Bowl career. He is tied with Oakland safety Michael Huff for the league lead with three. Sharper's interceptions have helped flip the field for the Saints, making life easier for Drew Brees and New Orleans' offense.

Owens is 35 and trying to help lead Buffalo back to the playoffs. The two will square off again as they have done multiple times throughout the years.

Cutler and Mora

Earlier this season, former NFL coach Jim E. Mora criticized Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for his news conference demeanor after Chicago lost its opener to Green Bay.

Now, Cutler gets to go up against Mora's son, Jim L. Mora, the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, who did his best this week to defuse the fire his father started.

"I thought to myself, 'Now isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?'" the younger Mora said. "My dad was known for some of the all-time press conferences."

Some extra points

• As quarterback of the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger never has lost in Ohio, where Pittsburgh plays Cincinnati on Sunday. Roethlisberger is 11-0 in the state.

• Two of the league's top pass-rushers, Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and San Diego's Shawne Merriman, still have yet to record a sack this season.

• History suggests Philadelphia, which will have a bye next week, needs to be on upset alert. In the Eagles' past 10 games before their bye, they are 3-7.

• After two games, the vaunted Steelers defense has only two sacks -- and none from outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

• Guess which running back has the most rushing yards in the past four regular-season weeks dating back to last year? Not Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner or DeAngelo Williams. It's Cincinnati's Cedric Benson, who has to come up big for the Bengals to have hopes of upsetting the Steelers.

• Last season, all the Falcons tight ends combined to catch 19 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. This season alone, Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has 12 catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns.