The onion that became an Onion-style headline on Friday has plenty of layers, both looking backward and looking forward.
As the 49ers and coach Jim Harbaugh try to find a way to continue to thrive amid some degree of dysfunction, there’s one important point to keep in mind: If Harbaugh ever decides he truly wants out, the 49ers won’t force him to stay.
We first developed a clear sense that the Niners wouldn’t compel Harbaugh to stick around after his name emerged as a candidate for the University of Texas job last season. If Harbaugh had wanted to leave for Austin, the 49ers would have wished him well.
At the time, it didn’t appear that same mentality would apply to another NFL team. However, if Harbaugh jumps to another NFL team, the 49ers can get compensation in the form of draft picks and/or money.
Sharing our belief that the 49ers wouldn’t keep Harbaugh from leaving if he wants to leave is Mike Silver of NFL.com, who is “convinced” that if Harbaugh had wanted to leave for Cleveland, the 49ers wouldn’t have blocked it.
As a result, things can get very interesting as 2014 unfolds. Barring a long-term, big-money deal that binds the Niners and Harbaugh together beyond the next two season, other teams will inevitably call the 49ers after the season ends, if not sooner.
Whether it’s the Dolphins (whose owner made a push for Harbaugh several years ago) or the Jets or the Browns (again) or the Raiders (for whom Harbaugh could work without moving), owners with coaches who will be inching toward the hot seat in 2014 could be warming up to the idea of making a run at Harbaugh.
The ceiling/floor for compensation will be set by whatever the Browns were willing to send to the 49ers for Harbaugh. For now, all we know is that Cleveland was ready to give multiple picks to the 49ers and that, per Adam Schefter of ESPN, a first-round selection was not involved.