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Certain aspects of Crabtree contract raise eyebrows

More details are emerging regarding the contract signed on Wednesday by 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree.

Adam Schefter of ESPN has reported that Crabtree’s contract represents over the first five years a 72-percent increase over the deal signed in 2008 by the tenth overall pick in the draft, Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo (which, frankly, says more about the quality of Mayo’s deal than it does about the quality of Crabtree’s).

And Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, who mercilessly criticized agent Alvin Keels for the contract signed by tackle Andre Smith, characterizes the Crabtree deal as “not terrible.” (I tried that phrase once in describing the quality of a meal that my wife cooked. The scar looks a little bit like Weeb Ewbank.)

Certain aspects of the deal arguably are terrible. Schefter and Cole’s analysis focuses only on raw numbers. There are other terms of the deal that have left multiple league insiders scratching their heads.

We’ve previously discussed the sixth year of the deal, and the very high bar that Crabtree must reach in order to reduce the term from six years to five. As Cole points out, of the 19 receivers picked in round one from 2002 through 2005, only Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald have achieved in the first four years of their careers the triggers that Crabtree must reach in order to transform the contract from a six-year, $32 million deal into a five-year, $28 million package.

In this regard, Crabtree is at a built-in disadvantage because, unlike the rest of the first-round wideouts, he has missed all of the offseason workouts due to injury, and all of training camp, the preseason, and four regular-season games due to his holdout.

Also, another source pointed out that the “superstar” incentive package, which would push the contract to a six-year, $40 million deal, is essentially a phony term. Though the performance trigger for the extra $8 million to be paid out in the sixth year of the contract is different than the performance trigger that would void the contract from six years to five, it’s highly unlikely -- as a practical matter -- that Crabtree would earn the “superstar” package without also successfully voiding the sixth year of the deal.

So, in other words, it will be a six-year, $32 million deal or a five-year, $28 million deal, but it most likely will never be a six-year, $40 million deal.

Another problem arises from the guaranteed money. The $17 million figure fits the slot as long as Crabtree is able to void the sixth year. If that sixth year doesn’t void, the guaranteed money actually falls below the slot, based on the per-year average. To fit the slot on a six-year deal, the guaranteed money would need to be in the range of $20 million.

We’ve previously explained that, in lieu of an option bonus, the 49ers used the “discretionary salary advance” concept, which funnels money to the player in a way that allows the team to pursue reimbursement in the event of a suspension, holdout, or other default. (Option bonuses and roster bonuses cannot be recovered.) But the major, glaring problem with the salary advance device used in Crabtree’s contract is that it contains no language that would penalize the 49ers for choosing not to make the salary advance.

As two different sources have explained, that’s a major omission in the deal.

The deal also contains what one source is calling the “diva clause.” Per the source, millions in base salary escalators factored are tied to full participation in all mandatory functions and 90 percent attendance in all voluntary activities. If Crabtree fails to comply, the escalators can be wiped out by the team.

The thinking in some circles is that the 49ers pushed for this language because of Crabtree’s protracted holdout and other activities that prompted some to regard him as, yes, a diva. So why did agent Eugene Parker agree to it? By all appearances, Parker wanted to get the deal done quickly, and either he missed the significance of the term or he opted to agree in order to expedite the process. (As we’ll explain in a subsequent posting, we think it’s the latter.)

So while some think that Crabtree essentially got the same financial package he would have obtained in July if Parker and Crabtree had opted not to wait for the 49ers to jump the slotting process by three levels, it could be that the deal is actually worse, given the inclusion of a sixth year, the high bar to void it, the guarantee based on a five-year deal, the absence of a language compelling the 49ers to pay the discretionary salary advance, and the diva clause.

Jason Cole called the contract Alvin Keels negotiated on behalf of Andre Smith a potential “career stopper.” One national media source similarly described the contract Parker negotiated for Crabtree as a “career killer.”

One league source with whom we spoke was more realistic. “Parker will be fine,” the source said. “Nothing ever sticks to him, and this contract won’t stick to him, either.”

But Crabtree is now stuck with the deal, probably for six full years.