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Holding out in the NFL isn't as easy as it looks

Receiver Michael Crabtree, picked 10th in 2009 draft by San Francisco and the only one in the class unsigned, might miss entire season. A long-ago holdout, Kelly Stouffer, knows what it's like.

September 18, 2009|SAM FARMER | ON THE NFL

Another day, another dollar gone?

As the weeks pass and no agreement is reached with the San Francisco 49ers, receiver Michael Crabtree moves closer to missing the entire NFL season, reentering the draft in 2010 and trying his luck again.

Texas Tech's Crabtree, the No. 10 pick of the 2009 NFL draft, is the only unsigned player from his draft class, and has turned down the 49ers' reported offer of $20 million over five years, with all but $4 million of it guaranteed.

Neither he nor his agent have discussed the situation publicly, but it is believed Crabtree wants more money than the league's unofficial slotting system warrants because he thinks he should have been chosen earlier.

The 49ers are said to be nearing their wits' end, and might actually be reducing their offer. It doesn't look as if a resolution is on the horizon.

Kelly Stouffer knows what that's like. Twenty-two years ago, he was the sixth pick by the then-St. Louis Cardinals, who made the Colorado State standout the second quarterback selected -- sandwiched between No. 1 Vinny Testaverde and No. 13 Chris Miller.

It was 1987, the year before the Cardinals relocated to Arizona, and Stouffer said the organization had a reputation for fighting for every penny in its negotiations.

"My agent called me and said it's kind of good news, bad news," Stouffer recalled this week in a phone interview from his home in Rushville, Neb. "`You're in an elite class, being chosen in the first round where you were. But the bad news is, with St. Louis it's going to be a bumpy ride."

Far bumpier than Stouffer ever dreamed. He said the Cardinals never made him a fair offer, never even matching the deal that Atlanta gave Miller, taken seven spots later.

"I quickly got indoctrinated into the business of the NFL, there's no doubt about that," said Stouffer, now a college football analyst for the Versus cable network. "At times it seemed like the negotiating arm of the St. Louis Cardinals felt like I was a kid sitting in a cornfield in Nebraska that didn't know any better."

In a written statement to The Times, the Cardinals said: "Needless to say, the team has a much different recollection of the events of 22 years ago. From our side, it was clear that Stouffer was not getting the best advice. In fact he was represented by an agent [Mike Blatt] who a short time later was arrested and tried for the murder of a rival business associate.

"There were a lot of bizarre elements to it but suffice to say that if we could do it over, we certainly would have selected someone other than Kelly Stouffer with that pick."

(Blatt, who spent 33 months in jail, was freed after judges declared consecutive mistrials.)

After the season -- and before the next draft -- Stouffer's rights were traded to Seattle. So Stouffer didn't join the ultra-rare club of NFL players drafted twice, which includes running back Bo Jackson and quarterback Craig Erickson.

Stouffer might not know the details of Crabtree's negotiations, but he knows precisely how it feels to watch a rookie season slipping away. He also knows the public stigma of holding out.

"It's hard to know what's true in the end, because there are only a couple of parties involved," he said.

"I know from the Cardinals' standpoint publicly, they were putting a lot of things out there that were just out-and-out lies. Other than refuting them as best we could by talking to reporters and whatnot, you can't really do anything about the misconceptions."

About the Crabtree situation, this much we know: The 49ers hold his rights until the day of the 2010 draft, meaning he cannot work out for other teams -- or even talk to them -- beforehand, or participate in the scouting combine. Also, if he doesn't sign a deal by the Nov. 17 deadline, his 2009 season is done.

Clothes make the fan

Michael Vick might be the league's most controversial player, but his Philadelphia Eagles jersey is flying off the shelves. According to sales numbers from April through mid-August, Vick's jersey is ranked fourth behind those of Brett Favre, Jay Cutler and Troy Polamalu.

Five of the other six spots in the top 10 are quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Mark Sanchez, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. The only exception is running back Adrian Peterson at No. 9.

As for sales of team gear, the top five are Pittsburgh, Chicago, Dallas, the New York Giants and New England.

Deflatin' Slaton

Only twice last season did anyone rush for triple digits against Tennessee's defense. Both times, it was Houston's Steve Slaton (116 and 100 yards), who faces the Titans again Sunday.

"Two of the runs were Fred Taylor-like, where you had him bottled up behind the line of scrimmage, and we had people stop him, and he bounced out and ran for 40 yards each time," Titans Coach Jeff Fisher recalled. "But still, five or six yards a crack is what he does best."

Like father, like son

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