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With Raiders Michael Crabtree having fun again

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

These days, Michael Crabtree is in a pretty good place both mentally and geographically.  It's almost hard to believe where he was just a year ago.

Crabtree spent the first six years of his NFL career in San Francisco. By the end of it, the 49ers were ready to move on from their former 10th overall pick. He was a free agent for the first time and unfortunately due to his reputation and dipping production, he found himself without any suitors willing to invest starter money in him long term.

That negative perception started before he was even drafted. He laughed at the Raiders when they selected Darrius Heyward-Bey at number 7 instead of him (though to be fair, most people did and rightfully so). Then he spent the first five games of his career in a contract holdout.

Once that was behind him, he set forth trying to prove he was worth the money he did end up getting. It took him until his fourth season, but in 2012 he was finally a 1000-yard receiver, posting 1105 yards and 9 touchdowns, helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl.

But even that wasn't free of pitfalls, as just days prior to appearing in the NFC Championship game, he was placed under investigation for sexual assault. The charges would be dropped shortly thereafter, but merely having one's name out there in a negative light -- especially with all the media coverage leading up to the Super Bowl -- is hurtful to one's image.

His frustrations would continue the following season, when he would miss the first 11 games with a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in the offseason. The 49ers would make the NFC Championship game, but it ended with Richard Sherman picking off a pass intended for Crabtree to end the game and send the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Caught in the moment, Sherman went off on Crabtree for talking trash to him during the game, in a rant that went instantly viral.

Crabtree's slapping away of Sherman's game-ending handshake 'attempt' was the last memory of Crabtree in a playoff game.

The 2014 season was the final year of his rookie contract and it too didn't turn out as Crabtree had hoped from a contract year. He was hampered by several injuries and complained about his role in the offense, saying he was only being used on third down and as a third option, despite starting every game.

He would enter free agency off of arguably his worst season, seen as a diva and despite an overall weak wide receiver class, wasn't highly sought after on the market. Eventually he settled for a one-year deal to cross the bay and ultimately giving himself a new season on a new team to prove his worth both as a player and a person.

What Crabtree found in Oakland wasn't just a launching pad, he found a permanent home to continue his career, and before the season was over, he had already signed a 4-year extension to remain with the Raiders. He couldn't be happier.

"I just feel like I can go there and play football, man," Crabtree said in a recent interview with Sirius XM NFL radio. "Got a quarterback that's gonna give you a chance, opportunity to do what you want to do, do what you need to do, has the same goals as you - the will to win. I mean, I'm really just having fun, man. All the other stuff, the negativity, all that stuff was behind me. I just felt like everything was positive I had guys that wanted to go to war with me."

Things in San Francisco were rocky late in Crabtree's time there. A team just two years prior was playing in the Super Bowl had become dysfunction junction with a battle of egos between the head coach and management. Not to mention the collapse of Colin Kaepernick.

It was not a fun environment for anyone, and with the departure Jim Harbaugh and his staff came a mass exodus of players who either signed elsewhere or flat out retired. It was a poisonous environment that Crabtree wanted no part of and desperately needed to escape.

The environment in Oakland was once seen as poisonous, but in recent years has developed a reputation for being one of the most friendly and supportive locker rooms in the NFL.

Players who have signed with the team have raved about how tight knit the Raiders are these days. Sean Smith joined the team this offseason and he raved about how everyone gets along and has since the moment he arrived.

"The one thing about this group, this is one of the tightest groups that I have ever been around," said Smith. "We're all friends. We all hang out outside of here. I actually knew a couple of guys coming in. There is no kind of relationship issues or anything like that, trying to bond with the guys. They're all outgoing, laid back."

In that same interview, Smith was asked about what advice he would give DJ Hayden, who, like Crabtree in 2014, is in the final year of his contract and in need of changing the negative perception about him. Smith's response is one that would resonate with Crabtree as well.

"Regardless of who you are, myself included, the past is the past," said Smith. "The thing about football is you can always reinvent yourself. . . Just come out here with a whole new mind frame, a whole new mindset. Trying to repaint your image."

Crabtree has repainted his image, thanks in large part to having repainted the scenery around him. And he likes what he sees.