The breakthrough could have ramifications for the long term.
2012 Michael Crabtree vs. Anquan Boldin
"I’m taking a different approach this year," Crabtree told the 49ers' website. "I'm the No. 1 receiver on the 49ers and you can quote me on that because I’m really working hard and I’m really trying to be the best player, one of the best in the NFL. It’s going to take a lot. I know what it’s going to take. I just need to go out there and take it."
The distinction between No. 1 and No. 2 receivers can be vague in some cases and meaningless in others. It means a great deal to players, agents and contract negotiators.
Another strong season from Crabtree would help the 49ers on the field while enhancing the receiver's future value. Crabtree's contract runs through the 2014 season. The 49ers have been proactive in re-signing core players, sometimes with more than one year remaining on the contracts. Right tackle Anthony Davis was the latest to cash in.
Where does Crabtree fit in the 49ers' plans? He thinks he's a No. 1 receiver, so we should expect him to seek No. 1 receiver money. His rookie contract negotiation was an epic one, resulting an impasse that kept Crabtree away from the team until October.
The 49ers have time to consider their options with Crabtree, but re-signing Colin Kaepernick could take priority after the 2013 season, the first time players drafted in 2011 become eligible to renegotiate contracts under the current labor agreement.
"I've been quiet the past four years on who’s the No. 1 receiver," Crabtree said in the 49ers.com piece. "I try not to talk about that, but I’m going into my fifth year. It's really time to take that responsibility, be No. 1 and go out and do your job and give the fans what they want to see and give the coaches what they expect of you and that’s greatness, or be the best I can be."
Crabtree once could have voided the final year of his contract by meeting incentives that included reaching at least one Pro Bowl during the first four seasons of the deal, plus other stipulations. The 2009 first-round choice set a career high with 1,105 yards last season, flourishing especially once Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith at quarterback.
The landscape at wide receiver is changing in the division, and not just because the 49ers added Anquan Boldin this offseason.
Larry Fitzgerald should bounce back from a down (for him) season now that the Arizona Cardinals have added quarterback Carson Palmer. Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts should put up better numbers, too.