The 49ers have come a long way from their initial off-the-record insistence to NFL Media that the report of a possible trade of coach Jim Harbaugh to the Browns was “completely false” and “ridiculous.”
Three days after trying to create the impression that the report was entirely fabricated and fully erroneous, the 49ers admit that there were trade communications.
“The Browns reached out to me, and we had no interest in pursuing it,” CEO Jed York tells Peter King of TheMMQB.com.
That’s still much different from Browns owner Jimmy Haslam confirming that there was an “opportunity” that didn’t materialize. “Opportunity” implies that something more happened than the 49ers hanging up on the Browns.
“Opportunity” implies that something more could happen in the future.
And that ultimately could be why the 49ers are trying to create the impression that they had zero interest in trading Harbaugh. Unless the 49ers and Harbaugh work out a long-term deal this offseason (which would entail the 49ers paying Harbaugh much more than they want to pay), the efforts of other teams to acquire Harbaugh could continue.
The lingering possibility that another team will try to finagle Harbaugh requires the 49er to try to maintain leverage, in order to avoid giving their head coach away.
The terms of the trade that Harbaugh ultimately didn’t want (based on our report) could go a long way toward shaping his future value if a deal happens, but those terms remain unknown. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported over the weekend that the package did not include a first-round pick.
Regardless of what did or didn’t happen between the Browns and the 49ers, the uncertainty in San Francisco will linger until the team and its coach work out a long-term deal — or until the two sides convince the rest of the NFL that they have.
Even if they really don’t.