A trade between NFL teams is common. Along with the draft and free agency, it is how teams add value and depth to their rosters. What is not common, however, is for the trade to involve a highly respected head coach. That trade almost happened, depending on who you ask.
Friday afternoon, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported that a deal fell through that would have sent San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for draft picks. The Browns had a vacancy at the position when they fired Rod Chudzinski after just one season, eventually hiring Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
The San Francisco 49ers, most notably CEO Jed York, outright denied the whole thing. York claims the report is not true (via Twitter in response to Florio), with another source in the organization labeling it as “completely false” and “ridiculous”.
Sunday evening, Florio followed up his report with confirmation of the trade via Haslam’s comments to USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. “There was an opportunity there and it didn’t materialize”, said Haslam. This seems to support an earlier statement issued by the Browns’ organization that “the team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options”. The statement continues, showing support of their eventual hire. “That search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine and we’re excited about his future with the club.”
Pettine, who had stints with the Ravens and Jets, was widely seen as the last option after more notable candidates withdrew from consideration.
It makes sense that the 49ers would deny the report. Even though his relationship with general manager Trent Baalke is far from perfect, it works. Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback, helped revive Alex Smith’s career and took the Niners to three consecutive NFC Championship games, and a Super Bowl appearance. Before his arrival, the franchise had 46 wins and 0 playoff appearances in 8 seasons. Whatever draft picks the Browns had to offer do not come close to compensating for Harbaugh and his resume. To quote the Niners’ source from earlier, this arrangement would indeed classify as ridiculous.
It also makes sense that the Browns would not deny the report. They have opened themselves up to criticism and a lot of questions early this offseason after Haslam, team president Joe Banner, and general manager Michael Lombardi fired Rod Chudzinski after one year as head coach. Banner and Lombardi would later resign and be terminated, respectively. During a press conference that followed Chudzinski’s termination, Haslam and Banner cited that they made the wrong decision at head coach and wanted to prove to Browns’ fans that they are committed to making it right and making the team a winner. Pursuing Harbaugh would definitely prove that point.
Outside of simply wanting to remain with the team, there has been no word on why Harbaugh turned the deal down. For now, he remains with the 49ers with two years remaining on a 5 year, $25 million deal.
If a contract extension was not being discussed before this, it sure has to be now.
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