Tuesday was quite a day for the San Francisco 49ers, all things considered.
They received the good, approaching glorious, news that they will host the 2016 Super Bowl in their new stadium. And during a routine offseason practice, wide receiver Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon.
Talk about bittersweet, or in this case, sweet bitter. The Super Bowl still stands, but Crabtree apparently isn't standing all that well and neither, frankly, are the 49ers. What does this injury mean to the team that would be a Super Bowl champion if it could be a Super Bowl champ?
Crabtree is their best wide receiver. No exceptions, arguments or harrumphs allowed. He is a top-10 wideout in the NFL, and last season was his breakout season — 85 catches, nine for touchdowns. His hands are gorgeous, were made to grab a football, and he is aggressive at going after an airborne ball. Not all wide receivers are.
As good as he was, Randy Moss did not fight fiercely for the football. Crabtree does. He is a guided missile in search of a ball and he fights with defensive backs for possession, fights hard.
The 49ers cannot possibly make up for the loss of Crabtree, a loss which could last all season or a significant part of the season. The 49ers can work around the loss of Crabtree, it's the best they can do.
Where do they stand?
Their other significant wide receiver is recently-acquired Anquan Boldin, who has Hall-of-Fame credentials and is a significant threat, although he will turn 33 next season and is not a fast runner. His skill set (a phrase NFL coaches love) duplicates Crabtree's. Both are tough, insistent, possession receivers. But neither is a burner. And that's OK if a team plays possession offense.
It's just that the 49ers want to use Colin Kaepernick's big arm and go deep at least some of the time — it's a bird, it's a plane, it's a Kaepernick rocket. If you want to abbreviate, it's a "Kaeperocket." And neither Crabtree nor Boldin is a receiver of downfield rockets. So before Crabtree got hurt, the Niners already had a problem of redundancy, and had no lethal deep threat even.
Now they have big trouble. Why do they have big trouble?
Because they have no other significant wide receivers. If you disagree, please name one.
Let's be methodical. Let's go down the list of noteworthy 49ers' wide receivers.
Next up, you would assume, is Kyle Williams, speedy little receiver who can be a deep threat when he's not dropping balls. But Williams tore his ACL last season, a bad injury. He will participate in training camp and should start the season, but no one yet knows how good he is, if he can cut it, if he can endure the daily grind. And even if he can, it's not like he's Jerry Rice. The most passes he caught in a season amounted to 20.
Next up after Williams is Mario Manningham in the sense of not being up. The injuries he suffered last season were worse than Williams'. Manningham tore both his ACL and MCL in his left knee, horrendous injuries. He almost certainly will start next season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. And that means he won't start the season, and that means we're back to Boldin and Williams.