In one of the more bizarre stories of an already wacky and news-filled NFL off-season, the Browns engaged in discussions aimed at luring 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to Cleveland.
Those talks eventually fizzled, but the fact that they occurred at all was a sign of two things: 1. The Browns were so desperate to make a splash at head coach that they took the highly unusual step of going after a guy already under contract to another team. 2. The 49ers' willingness to even engage in talks about Harbaugh shows that there may be more to the coach's situation in San Francisco than meets the eye.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam confirmed to USA Today's Jarrett Bell that talks did take place. "There was an opportunity there, and it didn't materialize," Haslam said.
Profootballtalk.com initially reported the contact between the two teams. The talks presumably took place in January, when the Browns were being run by team president Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi, both of whom were eventually removed from their posts and replaced by GM Ray Farmer.
The Browns eventually settled on Mike Pettine, the former defensive coordinator for the Bills and, before that, the Jets. Pettine said he has been assured he will not be affected by Harbaugh's situation, because the Browns moved on once they were rebuffed by the 49ers.
"I asked, 'How does that affect my tenure as the head coach?'" Pettine said earlier in the week at the Scouting Combine. "I think in my next sentence, I either used the word 'flying' followed by something, or reference a part of a rat's body. I think that's noise. It has no bearing on my job moving forward."
Harbaugh, meanwhile, has been itchy to sign a new contract with the 49ers. He's in the fourth year of a five-year, $25 million contract, and wants to be paid like a Super Bowl championship head coach - in other words, in the $7-8 million range. The 49ers aren't willing to go that high, so they remain at odds over a new deal. Harbaugh hasn't won a Super Bowl yet, but he has out-performed his contract - getting to three straight NFC Championship Games and reaching the Super Bowl before losing to his brother, John, head coach of the Ravens.
So in case you hadn't noticed, Harbaugh is a rather high-strung fellow, so it's a none-too-comfortable situation in the Bay Area.
Stay tuned. This one isn't over in San Francisco. Either Harbaugh agrees to an extension, or he doesn't and gets in a snit over his situation. We've seen these situations boil over before, and it isn't pretty.
Hopefully the 49ers are able to lock up Harbaugh long-term, because he has been terrific so far. If not, then they may be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement. That dilemma is probably ok with Harbaugh, because it only adds to his leverage.