If Crabtree isn’t re-signed or given the franchise tag, he would be very popular on the open market. So, it begs the question: What would the 49ers do if Crabtree leaves?
With the free-agent class being strong, the 49ers would likely consider using any money earmarked for Crabtree on a replacement in free agency. To help bring along the what-if game, I enlisted the help of ESPN analyst Matt Williamson.
Williamson reasons the top two receivers on Sando’s list -- Dallas' Dez Bryant and Denver's Demaryius Thomas -- would be too expensive for the 49ers. If they can’t get a deal done with Crabtree, they probably won’t be able to accommodate Bryant or Thomas, either.
Williamson thinks Nelson could be the best fit for the 49ers because of his overall skills. He also likes Smith as a fit because he can stretch the field.
Williamson thinks Cobb is too much of a slot receiver to replace Crabtree, and Shorts couldn’t fill the bill. He thinks Nicks, who the 49ers looked at this offseason, has too many injury concerns to be a reliable No. 1.
In the end, it appears the 49ers’ best approach is to extend Crabtree. They probably couldn’t do better, all things considered, by replacing him with a free agent.