INDIANAPOLIS – The San Francisco 49ers either never seriously discussed trading coach Jim Harbaugh to Cleveland, or their plan is to simply keep denying it happened and hope the story goes away.
Harbaugh, speaking on two separate occasions to CSN Bay Area, denied Pro Football Talk's report that the Browns and 49ers had a deal in place that would have sent multiple draft picks to San Francisco and Harbaugh to Cleveland. PFT said Harbaugh decided not to leave the 49ers.
“The report? Ridiculous. Ridiculous. No. Ridiculous,” Harbaugh told CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco on Saturday morning as he walked into Lucas Oil Stadium to watch combine workouts.
On Friday night, 49ers CEO Jed York tweeted "Report isn't true," and Harbaugh echoed that in a text message to CSN Bay Area's Dave Feldman.
“For the record, I echo Jed York’s comment…’isn’t true.’ I know nothing about a trade with the Cleveland Browns and us involving me," Harbaugh said, according to CSN Bay Area.
To think that there is nothing to PFT's story is naive. ESPN's Chris Mortensen confirmed that talks "reached a serious stage." SI.com's Peter King tweeted that trade terms were never discussed. The extent of those discussions made for good conversation fodder on Friday night around Indianapolis, but ultimately it doesn't matter too much. Harbaugh is coach of the 49ers. Mike Pettine is coach of the Browns. Life goes on.
But the bigger issue is the relationship between the 49ers and Harbaugh. The two sides haven't been able to finish a contract extension Harbaugh obviously wants and absolutely deserves. Maiocco reported the 49ers and Harbaugh, who couldn't come to an agreement on an extension last year, started talks again this offseason but a source said "the 49ers are not expected to pay Harbaugh like a Super Bowl-winning coach if he has not won a Super Bowl." ESPN.com's Bill Williamson also reported Harbaugh "wants top dollar, but the 49ers want to see him win a Super Bowl first." That's insane if that's the case, considering Harbaugh has taken the team to three straight NFC title games and did come 5 yards from winning a Super Bowl two seasons ago. Playing hardball with one of the NFL's best coaches because a fourth-down pass against the Ravens in the Super Bowl fell incomplete seems unwise, if that really is a holdup in negotiations.
Whatever is going on, it doesn't seem like the happy marriage one would expect from one of the NFL's best teams over the past three years and the head coach who has revitalized the franchise. The best way to get the Browns trade story to go away might be to resolve that quickly.
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