INDIANAPOLIS — Pro Football Talk is reporting what would have been the stunner of all stunners — the Cleveland Browns almost pulled off a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Seriously. The report states that Harbaugh backed out on the deal, which prevented it from going through.
The Browns issued a statement on the matter to ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi that would not constitute a denial.
#Browns spokesman Zak Gilbert on PFT Harbaugh story: "The team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options ...
— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) February 21, 2014
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport had a 49ers source call the report "completely false," and 49ers CEO Jed York took to Twitter to back that up with another source of denial.
— Jed York (@JedYork) February 21, 2014
Pettine is scheduled to talk Saturday morning at the NFL scouting combine. That should be fun. Harbaugh spoke Thursday before the story broke.
No NFL coach has been traded since the New York Jets sent Herm Edwards to the Kansas City Chiefs. Three years prior, Jon Gruden had been dealt from the Oakland Raiders to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The NFL had outlawed coaches being traded shortly after the Gruden deal, but the Chiefs and Jets circumvented that by having a player picked on their behalf for the Jets.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello released a statement on the legality of head coaches being traded:
"Except for Head Coaches and High-Level Club Employees (club presidents, general managers, and persons with equivalent responsibility and authority), clubs are not permitted to exchange draft choices or cash for the release of individuals who are under contract to another organization."
Could this have happened? If so, for what compensation? (Perhaps visions of Josh Gordon were dancing in the 49ers' heads. Or maybe cash.)
The Browns' coaching search was widely panned, as they pinged from candidate to candidate seemingly with little vision or direction. But settling on Pettine was just the first domino of the early offseason. In a shocking front-office shuffle after the hire, CEO Joe Banner and GM Michael Lombardi were fired, leaving Pettine and newly promoted GM Ray Farmer left to pick up the pieces.
From the 49ers' perspective, the possibility of the trade — not to mention the surprisingly frequent rumors of Harbaugh perhaps going back to coach in college this offseason — might be related to his contract status.
For now, we are left with more questions than answers.
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