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.
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