Earlier today, Mike Florio of NBC Sports reported that the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns very nearly agreed to a deal that would have sent head coach Jim Harbaugh to Cleveland in exchange for draft picks. Had this trade occurred it would have sent shock waves through the NFL and drastically altered the landscape of both the AFC North and the NFC West.
But reading between the lines, what does Harbaugh’s near departure tell us?
It tells us that the tension between Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke, which has been downplayed by both parties over the last few years, is very real. 49ers CEO Jed York admitted to the existence of tension between the two back in December, saying that they often “butt heads” over personnel. He went on to say that he didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary, but the admission in itself was huge.
Is it possible that Harbaugh, coming off three straight NFC Championship appearances in his first three seasons in the NFL, wants autonomy over personnel decisions? He wouldn’t be the first head coach bestowed with this power, but in this case it would seem odd. From a personnel standpoint no team has developed talent more successfully or drafted more effectively than the 49ers since 2011.
Obviously, Harbaugh would have had to approve of the unorthodox trade, which would draw obvious comparisons to the departure of Jon Gruden from the Oakland Raiders in 2002. For Harbaugh to even entertain this possibility, something must be off in the Niners front office. Perhaps it’s his relationship with Baalke, and perhaps he just wants more decision-making power.
This is a major story reported by Florio, and despite the fact that this is sensitive, insider information, we’ll likely learn more in the coming days.