Why Browns saw 'opportunity' to acquire Harbaugh

Why Browns saw 'opportunity' to acquire Harbaugh
February 24, 2014, 10:45 am
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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.
Jim Harbaugh in December

General manager Trent Baalke stood in the back of the meeting room as 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh spoke to his team the morning after the season-ending loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Harbaugh told the assembled players that he did not care what the front office planned for the offseason. He was going to fight hard to bring back everyone in the room.

It was an awkward moment, a source told CSNBayArea.com. But it was not too different than some of Harbaugh’s public statements about retaining such players as Josh Morgan, Randy Moss and Dashon Goldson – none of whom was re-signed.

Harbaugh also made public statements last season, in effect, challenging Baalke to re-sign safety Donte Whitner and kicker Phil Dawson.

Is there tension between Harbaugh and Baalke? They are rarely seen speaking with each other in public. And NFL Network cameras did not capture them sitting together during the first three days of the NFL Scouting Combine.

Those perceptions of a rift within the organization is likely the reason the Cleveland Browns contacted the 49ers last month to investigate the possibility of acquiring Harbaugh in a trade. Owner Jimmy Haslam said there was an "opportunity" to acquire Harbaugh as the Browns' head coach.

[RELATED: Haslam confirms Browns talked to 49ers about Harbaugh]

In mid-December after Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami wrote of tension between Harbaugh and Baalke, Harbaugh addressed the issue without ever mentioning Baalke by name.

“Good. It’s the 49er way,” Harbaugh said of his rapport with Baalke. “It’s the team, the team, the team. Everybody does a little and it adds up to be a lot. Nobody above the team. Nobody more important. Nobody less important. 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.”

Before the Pro Football Talk report of the Browns' "near trade" to acquire Harbaugh broke on Friday, Baalke addressed his working relationship with Harbaugh during the draft process.

"We continue to work hard at it," Baalke said. "What we’re trying to do is get it right for the 49ers. And the best way to get it right is for everybody to be on the same page and to work hard together and try to make the best decisions that you can for the team and the organization as a whole. We’ll continue to do that. From that standpoint, nothing’s changed.”

It’s not a secret around the 49ers that Harbaugh’s personality can wear out people around him. But Harbaugh is a proven winner. He took the 49ers from eight consecutive non-playoff seasons to three trips deep into the postseason.

Regardless of how well Harbaugh and Baalke get along behind the scenes, their union has resulted in the 49ers becoming one of the NFL’s elite teams since their pairing as the two most-powerful football men in the organization.

[RATTO: Jed York learns valuable lesson]

The feeling within the organization is that Harbaugh is not going to be a 10-year coach with the 49ers. He has completed three years of his original five-year, $25 million contract. Rather than a long-term contract extension, the 49ers might be more inclined to talk about adding only a year or two.

The sides could not reach an agreement on a new contract last offseason. And it’s difficult to believe Harbaugh's demands will decrease from a year ago or that York will be willing to pay more after the 49ers did not return to the Super Bowl.

York told the Sacramento Bee he would re-open contract negotiations with Harbaugh whenever Harbaugh chooses. York said those talks probably would not take place until after the May 8-10 draft.

Harbaugh and agent David Dunn expect the 49ers to make Harbaugh the highest-paid coach in the NFL. And York is reluctant to make that happen until they win a Super Bowl, the Bee reported.

York had no such difficulty wrapping up Baalke to a long-term extension. In February 2012, after just one year in his role as general manager, York and Baalke agreed to a new deal.

York jokingly wrote on Twitter: "Contentious contract negotiation w/ Trent over dinner. Didn't finalize terms until after we finished the chips & salsa."

Baalke's contract runs through the 2016 season. Harbaugh is signed through 2015.

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