Raiders prepping for second course of Crab in Baltimore

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Derek Carr recalls the last conversation he had with Michael Crabtree, who served primarily as the security blanket for the Oakland Raiders quarterback the previous three seasons.

"Standing around the corner in the hallway, begging him not to leave," Carr recalled Wednesday.

"'I promise I'll throw you the ball,' I said. He had two or three of his best, statistically, years of his career. That means a lot to me. I told him, 'I'll throw it to you,' and knowing him, he probably wanted it more. But that's Crab. He's one of the most competitive people I've ever been around. I think the world of him. I miss him, I do. I wish him the best. I always keep up on my phone making sure he's doing well and all that. I really do wish the best for him and his family."

Turns out it was not Crabtree's decision to make, whether to stay in Oakland or go elsewhere. The Raiders made that choice for him March 15, cutting him before signing Jordy Nelson that same day.

And while Carr and the Raiders will see Crabtree on Sunday in Baltimore -- he signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Ravens on March 16 -- the moves have not really worked out for either side.

After catching a combined 232 passes for 2,543 yards and 25 touchdowns from 2015 through 2017 for the Raiders, Crabtree has 42 catches for 479 yards and two touchdowns this season. He had just one 7-yard catch in the Ravens' defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Nelson, meanwhile, has just 25 catches for 353 yards and three scores and missed the Week 11 victory over Arizona with a bone bruise on his knee.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh would not compare Crabtree's output from previous seasons to this year with Baltimore. Harbaugh would say only that Crabtree was "great" for his team.

"He works hard," Harbaugh said during a conference call with Bay Area reporters. "I just love his attitude, work ethic, demeanor. He's been clutch for us in a number of games, he's come up with some big plays, clutch plays for us. I'm happy with him, and I really expect him to have some big games here going forward down the stretch. We really need him to. He's important to us. I feel very blessed that we have him on our team.

"He had a heck of a game blocking this last game. He had some very physical blocks. For a wide receiver of his caliber to block the way he does gives a lot of insight into the type of person that he is. He's a very unselfish guy."

The knock, though, on Crabtree throughout his 10-year career has been that he is a great teammate on a good team ... not so much on a bad team.

Or did you miss his final star-crossed season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2014, when he derisively called himself a "third-down receiver" and a "fourth option" for Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick?

What about after the 2017 season finale, when Crabtree lamented his disappearance from Oakland's offense in the final weeks, saying, "I do everything I'm supposed to do. I play 60 minutes every time we play. Game winners after game winners. I do everything they ask of me [but] these last two games and I've probably had three targets. But nobody is saying anything about that, but it's all good. I'm going to keep working hard, man, and be me."

Getting his chain snatched by Aqib Talib in 2016 and 2017 and responding by fighting was understandable in the Raiders' locker room, even if he had to serve a suspension.

Crabtree downplayed the notion of facing his former team.

"Next game," Crabtree told Baltimore reporters this week. "We're on the end of a stretch right here, so every game counts for us. The next game is the Raiders."

So, no special meaning?

"Oh, no," he said. "[I'm just] playing football."

Maybe. But Crabtree did leave a positive vibe, as well as some tips, in the Raiders' wide receiver room.

"Working on my game, overall, with my releases, top end of my route, just everything, everything you could think of as a receiver, he was helping me with," Keon Hatcher said. "Catching the ball is my game, but Crab was like, 'That one you drop, it's that little bit of focus, so lock back in.'

"Crab showed mad love from the start. He's a real down-to-earth guy ... he took me in right away, under his wing, just teaching me, showing me the game, showing me how to do it."

With three consecutive seasons of at least eight touchdown catches, Crabtree was Carr's favorite red zone target. Perhaps no more than when he came up with the 2-yard TD in front of the left pylon with no time on the clock to help beat the Kansas City Chiefs on a Thursday night last season.

"That one right there, he hugged me, I hugged him," Carr said. "All I remember him saying is, 'I hope it counts,' because we played about seven untimed downs that time.

"We had great chemistry. We had good moments together on those red zone plays. We had hand signals. Just me looking at him. We were on a good page. That's something you try to do with all your guys. We played for years together, so it doesn't just come overnight. I think that every quarterback that has played with him will definitely say he has some of the best hands and is one of the most competitive and reliable people. I have nothing but good things to say."