SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Michael Crabtree is all but forgotten around the San Francisco 49ers these days.
Coach Mike Singletary has been saying since the start he can't worry about Crabtree's unsigned contract.
Now that the 49ers are days away from opening the regular season
Sunday at Arizona, perhaps Crabtree should be the one concerned. He's not even a focus anymore, barely mentioned at team headquarters. He's so far behind that his rookie season could be lost even if he does finally show up for practice and pull on his No. 15 jersey - or at least his impact might be significantly less than had he reported on time.
"I thought I'd see Crabtree by now, but he's not here," tight end Vernon Davis said Wednesday. "He could help the team out, but he's not here and we have to move forward. We can't wait."
Crabtree's locker is unoccupied, a helmet and pads there ready for him if and when he does appear, along with a hefty stack of fan mail. He very well may be losing his teammates' respect, too - though there's the thought that if he arrives and immediately plays well the lengthy contract impasse could be forgiven in a hurry.
Receiver Jason Hill dresses next to Crabtree's vacant space. Hill figures it could be tough for the former Texas Tech star to catch up after missing so much work.
"For most people it is (hard). He might be different. I don't know. I haven't seen him," Hill said. "When I got drafted my plan was to be here from Day 1. I figured that was everyone's plan but obviously he's a little different."
Singletary briefly brought up Crabtree during the opening of his news conference Wednesday. The topic of Crabtree and the constant inquiries about his status have worn on the coach's nerves, no doubt about that.
"Any questions that we have about Crabtree, that's already been handled. He's not here," Singletary said. "Until he comes here, I don't really want to talk about him. Nothing's changed in my mind."
Crabtree, the 10th overall pick in April's draft who will turn 22 on Monday, hasn't accepted the 49ers' offer for approximately five years and $20 million with a reported $16 million guaranteed - instead seeking money comparable to the higher picks. Oakland Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 choice, signed a five-year contract that will guarantee him at least $23.5 million.
Jacksonville Jaguars top pick Eugene Monroe, taken eighth overall, signed a five-year, $25 million contract that includes $19 million guaranteed.
Come Sunday, Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan will start at wideout against the defending NFC champion Cardinals. Star running back Frank Gore will be at the center of Singletary's power run offense and quarterback Shaun Hill will start a season opener for the first time in his eight-year NFL career.
"I haven't been worried about no Crabtree," Gore said. "I've been thinking about my teammates who are here and trying to get a win on Sunday."
Last season, Jacksonville defensive end and eighth overall pick Derrick Harvey missed the entire preseason during a 33-day holdout and his first game was the season opener. Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, agreed to his deal the day after the opener.
A report surfaced a month ago that Crabtree was prepared to sit out all season, re-enter the draft in 2010 and wait for the hefty paycheck he thinks he deserves. ESPN.com quoted Crabtree's cousin and adviser, David Wells, about the possibility of a yearlong holdout. The 49ers then released a statement saying, "In our view, there have been open and positive conversations on both sides."
A phone message left by The Associated Press on Wednesday for
Crabtree's agent, Eugene Parker, wasn't immediately returned.
Crabtree would be part of one of the Niners' most talented and deep receiving corps in the last decade - and arguably the biggest addition to that unit since Terrell Owens left after the 2003 season.
Yet Crabtree will have a lot of catching up to do. He missed key days of development during a rigorous training camp, not to mention the chance to better get to know his teammates on and off the field.
He also sat out the 49ers' offseason minicamps and organized team activities while recovering from a foot injury, but was a regular presence at team headquarters for rehabilitation and strengthening workouts.
Other rookie holdouts have paid a price for being absent.
Former Bengals draft pick David Verser, like Crabtree a receiver and 10th overall selection back in 1981, signed late and it apparently hurt his career path. Verser played only parts of six seasons - primarily limited to special teams - and made one start, finishing with three total touchdown receptions.
And that's just one example of someone having trouble getting back on track. The learning curve at receiver is steep.
Since 1986, running backs have earned 17 of the 23 offensive rookie of the year awards. Quarterbacks and receivers have split the other six. One of those receivers: Randy Moss, in 1998 for Minnesota.
"No matter who's here and who's not, no matter who's injured and who's playing, somebody steps in and that's what you go with," Shaun Hill said. "It's the tough part about this league, you're kind of an afterthought if you're injured or if you're not here.... There's no substitute for repetitions. We had a long training camp and a lot of plays in there that he's missed out on at this point. We're moving forward with the people we have."
Crabtree caught 97 passes for 1,165 yards and 19 touchdowns last
year during his sophomore season at Texas Tech. He finished his collegiate career with 231 receptions, 3,127 yards and 41 TDs.