If you just don’t want to believe any part of PFT’s blockbuster report yesterday that the Cleveland Browns recently had a deal in place to acquire Jim Harbaugh from the 49ers before it collapsed… that there is nothing here to examine at all…

That’s your call and it’s an understandable call.

“Report isn’t true,” 49ers owner Jed York said on Twitter in response to a back-and-forth between PFT’s Mike Florio and the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport after Rapoport quickly knocked down Florio’s report with two unnamed 49ers sources.

Later, Harbaugh sent this text-message to ESPN’s Ed Werder, BANG’s Cam Inman and CSN Bay Area’s Dave Feldman: ”I echo Jed York’s comment– isn’t true…. I know nothing about a trade with the Cleveland Browns and us, involving me.”

Then when Inman reached him by phone in Indianapolis and asked directly whether he nixed the deal, Harbaugh
reiterated the “isn’t true” comment.

(Just great work by Cam–getting a hold of Harbaugh via text and phone on this night? Tremendous. A++ reporting, to use a familiar 49ers evaluation system.)

So…


Oh, and Harbaugh told Matt Maiocco that the story was “ridiculous” this morning on his way to the combine workouts.

If that does it for you, and you believe this all meant nothing in the larger 49ers firmament and management structure of York, Trent Baalke and Harbaugh… and that everything is wonderful between them and there are no potential pitfalls ahead…

And that Harbaugh is destined to coach the 49ers for a long time… that’s certainly one way to interpret this.

If you believe that and feel that York and Harbaugh’s combined denials shut this down 1,000% then don’t read the rest of this item. Yes, the terse denials (and the fact that the report was about something that didn’t happen, anyway) do publicly shut down the more fanciful parts of this.

–Most fanciful: Harbaugh to Cleveland of all places? With no QB and having to give up top choices to get Harbaugh? To the same division as his brother? SARAH Harbaugh to Cleveland?

But the denials don’t shut it all down when you look at the larger Harbaugh/49ers picture, in my view. This is all just the start of things in this one, not the end.

So don’t read this any more if you want a 1,000% shutdown.

If you choose to read on, please take into account that we’re assuming all of the principals involved here are and were operating within the margins of plausible, tightly-constructed deniability in all Harbaugh/Cleveland/49ers tacit discussions.

Which is fair play by the principals involved; I’m not suggesting this is anything other than normal off-season NFL/big-time coach/agent/executive Sun-Tzu-inspired back-and-forth and once the back-and-forth gets out into public view a little bit, nobody has any need to admit to it if things fall apart.

This happens all the time, it doesn’t get out all of the time (or it gets out much later) and I would caution 49ers fans and mostly Harbaugh fans that there are a great many of these instances/conversations/plausible denials to come.

Larger point: I know some 49ers fans–or mostly Harbaugh fans–don’t want to hear this, but the reality is that Harbaugh is a combustible commodity who has 49ers HQ very unsettled most days and now he’s coming up on a contract extension that he really thought he deserved last year, so things are a little pent-up between coach and management.

As always, it’s stipulated that Harbaugh is a great coach, but he has never been known as a soothing, pleasant personality and he has never claimed to be.

He wins, and he also wears on people. Three years of winning with the 49ers, three years of wearing people down. Just ask the people at Stanford how they felt about him after four years there.

Harbaugh might say the same about Baalke, who also isn’t the sweetest of personalities. The two alpha-types are extremely good at what they do–Baalke finds the talent, Harbaugh coaches it–and they’ve been very good for each other… up until they moment when they decide that they’re very much not.

And yes, I reported back in December that there was growing tension between Harbaugh and Baalke. That got a lot of 49ers fans angry, and oh well. It’s true.

At the end of the season, I heard that the two men–while definitely a lot chillier than they were when they were running hills together in 2011–were getting along just a bit better.

But there is this contract extension that Harbaugh wants, and he wants a Large One. As in: The largest one.

York, to this point, has happily paid Harbaugh $5M a year and probably would up that to $6.5M (into the top 5-10 or so), but does not want to make Harbaugh the top-paid coach in the league until he wins a Super Bowl and that has not yet happened, despite three straight trips to the NFC title game.

So Harbaugh and his agent David Dunn are going to do what they can to pressure the 49ers to getting that deal, or to eventually finding a place that will give him maybe an even larger deal. The 49ers will presumably push back.
All fair, by both sides.

It’s NEGOTIATIONS, and both sides know that they pretty much have to get the deal done this off-season or else Harbaugh’s 49ers tenure will be moving towards an end period.

That’s what caused the weirdness of yesterday and there will be more, I predict, up until the moment a new deal is signed or the 49ers and Harbaugh decide there’s just no way to get a deal done.

And then there will be even more weirdness.

What follows are my best presumptions about how this could’ve all unfolded, fitting the larger points of the PFT story, the clipped denials by York and Harbaugh, and what I know about the general personalities and background involved.