Kurtenbach: Why keeping Michael Crabtree is the right decision for the Raiders
The Raiders still have a ton of questions to answer this offseason, but one of the biggest questions in front of the team seems to have been answered Tuesday:
The Raiders reportedly plan to keep wide receiver Michael Crabtree around for another year.
And that’s, 100 percent, the correct decision.
Crabtree might carry more of an ego than you’d want, and he’s certainly no friend to the media, but the truth remains that heading into his age 31 season, he’s still an excellent receiver.
And he was irreplaceable for the Raiders going into the 2018 campaign.
Now, it was fair to wonder if the Raiders were going to cut the Texas Tech product this offseason — he underperformed in 2017, caused more headaches for Raiders coaches than he did for opposing defensive coordinators, his contract counts $7,687,500 against the salary cap in 2018, and the Raiders could have let him go without carrying any of that balance onto next season’s books.
Yes, there were plenty of reasons the cut Crabtree — it would have been a clean break-up, financially speaking — but that possibility begged the question: who would replace him?
I don’t know if the Raiders could have gone out and filled a Crabtree-sized hole with the $7.6 million they’d have saved save by cutting him.
Now, the Raiders could have gone out and tried to make a major upgrade at the wide receiver position, but that would have cost major money — Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins are going to cost seven figures on the open market, and Jarvis Landry is already set to make $16 million in 2018 thanks to the Dolphins’ franchise tag, plus he’d require draft-pick collateral to acquire (Miami is trying to trade the receiver).
Yes, all of those receivers are currently better than Crabtree and project further out than him, too, but would they provide a positive return on investment (in this case, a cash investment) compared to No. 15?
I’ll say this: I don’t think any of those receivers is twice as good as Crab.
Beyond that, the Raiders are unlikely to be big-time spenders on the free agent market this offseason — they have cash to spend, yes, but they’re not looking to make major commitments to new players with extensions for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper looming. Plus, this team has much more pressing needs to address than wide receiver, even though that wasn’t exactly a position of strength in 2018.
As for the draft? The Raiders could absolutely be in the market for a receiver at the end of April, but I have a hard time believing that head coach Jon Gruden would trust a rookie (the most likely option for a top-10 pick is Alabama’s Calvin Ridley) to be an immediate impact player for a team that is looking to be a Super Bowl contender in 2018.
That’s not how Gruden rolls — his reputation is that he’s all about veterans, perhaps to a fault.
(Don’t rule out the Raiders drafting a wide receiver to fill the No.3 role, though — Seth Roberts is eminently replaceable.)
And there’s certainly no one on the Raiders’ active roster that would be able to step into Crabtree’s role in the offense and create serious influence.
And when you can’t buy, draft, or promote an upgrade, it’s probably best to just keep the one you already have.
In 2016, Crabtree was a 1,000-yard receiver. Yes, he had a down year in 2017, but do you think one year in Todd Downing’s offense made him forget how to be an impact player?
It’s possible, but it’s more likely that last year was a blip.
I doubt that Crabtree is a 1,000-yard receiver again in his career, but I also doubt that he’ll be a 600-yard receiver who is on the sideline for critical moments of critical games again in 2018, either.
The truth of the matter, as per most things these days, lies somewhere in the middle of those two options. And that’s the kind of receiver you don’t cut without a viable backup plan in place.