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The tension of Harbaugh and the 49ers can only be silenced by extension

Trent Balke and Jim Harbaugh introduced with CEO Jed York
Trent Balke and Jim Harbaugh introduced with CEO Jed York
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With the report from Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk about Jim Harbaugh almost being traded to the Browns, the discussion among the 49ers now lies on where he goes long term.

Team CEO Jed York initially denied the report, saying it was false. However, he later admitted to the Sacramento Bee that the Browns gave an offer on the table and discussions didn't go far.

While it is unclear what really happened last month, both the Browns and 49ers have their head coaches under contract this year with the trade that never occurred. Cleveland was the last team to hire a head coach as then-general manager was conducting a search.

It's obvious there was interest in the San Francisco 49ers head coach even though there appeared to be stability within the organization at who is in charge. The longer this story drags without Harbaugh being extended long-term, the more likely there is higher tension in the front office than people realized.

Rewind to the offseason after 2010 where then-head coach Mike Singletary was just fired and Jim Tomsula won the final 49ers home game of the season as the interim head coach. Trent Baalke was officially named general manager after Scot McCloughan was dismissed and three days later, while Jim Harbaugh was hired by York and not the GM.

Harbaugh was asked last season as to whether his relationship with Baalke was fine, saying there is no trouble ongoing. He remained vague about his coaching staff and what goes on behind the scenes last year.

"[My relationship with Trent Baalke is] good," Harbaugh said in December. "It’s the 49er Way. It’s the team, the team, the team. Everybody does a little and it adds up to be a lot. [There is] nobody above the team. Nobody more important. Nobody less important. [There are] hundreds of people in this organization and we all have a role, we all contribute to the best of our ability and that’s the team, the team, the team. We win as a team. That’s how we do it.”

Yes, the 49ers have made three consecutive NFC Championship title games and yes, Jim Harbaugh has had 36 regular season wins in his first three seasons, but it doesn't change the fact that there are questions of why the team has not extended the head coach from his 5-year, $25 million contract.

Harbaugh presumably wants to be the top-paid head coach, but it doesn't appear the 49ers will give in unless the franchise wins its sixth Lombardi trophy in team history. Is there tension between the players and head coach? Probably not. Are there disagreements on what coaches decide during games? Most likely, or else there wouldn't be several timeouts with the play clock winding down nor would there be as many aggressive challenges from Harbaugh.

It's easy to point out the success of the 49ers throughout the Harbaugh era, but each postseason has ended in a way that becomes more agonizing than not. From a fumble on a punt return against the New York Giants to have four plays on the seven-yard line in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens to a late interception against the Seattle Seahawks, each loss had several chances to win even though the 49ers came up short.

Every time there's a hard postseason fall, the short term failure dampens everything else among the team. The 49ers roster will be fine for the next few years, but will the head coaching situation change?

The longer the 49ers don't extend Harbaugh, the more questions that arise. If there is no new contract after the 2014 season, Harbaugh would be entering a lame duck period as 2015 would be his contract year. Several teams would be interested whether they throw an offer similar to the likes of Cleveland.

If the team extends Harbaugh, the head coach will benefit most from this report that came from Pro Football Talk. Harbaugh can use this discussion as a way to get what he wants from any team who wants to pay him.

In the big picture, we won't know what will happen, but speculation can continue to come until further notice. Sit back, relax and fasten your seat belts for what could be a bumpy ride in 2014.

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