San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York flatly denied his team nearly traded coach Jim Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns. Harbaugh echoed York's denial.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has a different story. In fact, Haslam confirmed the two teams did discuss a deal that would've rocked the NFL.
"There was an opportunity there, and it didn't materialize," Haslam told USA Today in a Sunday report.
Haslam wouldn't elaborate on the specifics of the "opportunity." ProFootballTalk reported Friday that a deal was in place to send Harbaugh to the Browns in exchange for draft picks.
From the start, the two teams have handled the story very differently. The Browns quickly released a statement explaining that they "explored several options" during a head-coaching search that ended with the hiring of Mike Pettine. A high-ranking Niners official told NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport that the PFT report was "completely false" and "ridiculous." York doubled down on the denial on Twitter.
Rapoport reported Saturday that both the Browns and the University of Texas reached out to Harbaugh's agent about a potential move. Harbaugh briefly considered the options and decided he wasn't interested. According to Rapoport, there were no true trade talks.
Still, this was one bit of business the Niners did not want getting into the public sector. It's not a good look for York and the 49ers, who don't want any friction with Harbaugh playing out in the media.
The effect this could have on the future of Harbaugh and the Niners remains to be seen. The coach has said he and general manager Trent Baalke often "butt heads." Now the whole world knows there was the possibility of Harbaugh leaving the organization.
The Niners' quickest solution to this drama would be to sign Harbaugh to a rich contract extension that makes him one of the game's highest-paid coaches. But that's working under the assumption that this still is a happy marriage.
We now have hard evidence that might not be the case.
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