49ers, Jim Harbaugh trade saga will remain a mystery

Pro Football Talk created a fire storm for the San Francisco 49ers by releasing a report that said the team was close to trading head coach Jim Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns for draft picks. Since then, it seems as if everyone has chimed in, giving their opinions from their sources about how accurate or inaccurate Pro Football Talk’s initial story was. Each of the organizations involved have also weighed in, giving a vague take on what actually occurred. 

Browns’ owner Jimmy Haslam threw some wood on the fire by confirming to USA Today that there was, at least, some merit to the report.

“There was an opportunity there, and it didn’t materialize,” said Haslam.

Of course, the 49ers and CEO Jed York have denied the there was any real substance to the story, as most recently reported by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King via Twitter.


It will be difficult to ever know exactly what transpired between the 49ers and Browns after San Francisco lost the NFC Championship game on January 19th. In one scenario that could explain why there are so many takes on what exactly happened, sources say that the Browns did indeed call the 49ers to inquire about assistant coaches Jim Tomsula and Greg Roman. During the discussions, the Browns apparently brought up Harbaugh and laid out what they would be willing to offer for him. The 49ers in turn declined the offer and the talks about Harbaugh stopped there. That story paints a picture of a conversation that could have been seen in two different ways by the people involved.

It’s perplexing to think why a team would even want to get rid of a head coach that took a floundering franchise and helped turn it into one of the league’s powerhouses. After all, Harbuagh is 36-11-1 over this first three seasons and has appeared in three straight NFC Championship games as well as a Super Bowl. Isn’t a coach with that pedigree, even if difficult at times, worth some headaches?

Harbaugh is a head strong and opinionated head coach and the same adjectives can be used about the team’s general manager, Trent Baalke. While Harbaugh does have influence on roster moves, he does not make the final say. That can make for some interesting back and forth between the two parties. Clearly, the two have agreed on enough to build and maintain a championship caliber roster, but there have been some issues. For example…

– Harbaugh wanted to draft former Stanford fullback Owen Marecic in 2011, but the team skipped over him in the fourth round in favor of Kendall Hunter. They instead took fullback Bruce Miller in the seventh round who has worked out quite well for the 49ers.

– The front office had to step in during the preseason when Harbaugh seemed to be going overboard with the third string quarterback carousel. Candidates ranged from Scott Tolzien to B.J. Daniels to Seneca Wallace to John Skelton to McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

– Harbaugh often speaks, possibly out of turn, about resigning players that Baalke may have had no intention of retaining. An example of that was safety Dashon Goldson, who Harbaugh expressed a desire to keep around, but was ultimately let go in free agency.

While these issues may cause for some tension, they shouldn’t carry enough weight for the 49ers to want to abandon ship on their head coach. However, if they are indeed all in on Harbaugh, San Francisco is going to have to pony up big dollars to extend his contract sooner rather than later. Harbaugh is currently entering the fourth year of a five-year, $25 million dollar deal ($5 million per year) and will command a hefty raise. Two coaches in his own division, Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams and Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks, are making $7 million dollars per season. While Harbaugh doesn’t have the Super Bowl ring that Carroll does, his team has been more consistent from year to year. Harbaugh would be worth at least every penny that Fisher is, considering he already has half as many 10 win seasons (three to Fisher’s six), in 15 less years as a head coach.

In the end, the only way San Francisco can completely defuse this situation is to extend Harbaugh, which would guarantee he will be around for the long haul. The more the team waits, the more the speculation will grow that the relationship between the head coach and the 49ers is strained, which could make for some uncomfortable times moving forward.

 Photo: Getty Images

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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