Over the last three days, we've heard a million and one reports from the media about the Jim Harbaugh-Cleveland Browns trade rumors. During that time, everybody has become an amateur psychologist about Harbaugh's relationship with the rest of the front office. Naturally it has 49ers fans running for the hills with concern.
Earlier this morning, Peter King tweeted out that Jed York told him "The Browns reached out to me, and we had no interest in pursuing it." I have a hunch people like Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk are going to spin this comment as proof his report was right and York is a big, fat liar. It wouldn't be the first time PFT and the national media have taken a comment about this and blown it out of proportion.
Last night, Cleveland Browns Jimmy Haslam told USA Today, "There was an opportunity there, and it didn't materialize." The media took that as proof that Florio was right and Jed York was either lying in his denial, or was unaware that trade talks happened (and thus was painted as clueless about his own organization).
Unfortunately, whereas these media members are looking for a black and white villain, they completely overlooked the possibility that Jed York's denial was a more narrow denial of the specifics of Florio's report. Florio reported a deal was on the table and close to being executed. York's denial did not preclude the possibility that the Browns reached out and were rebuffed. But Florio, Mike Freeman and others did not let that get in the way of accusing Jed York of deception. Rather than focus in on the logic of the situation, they were tripped up looking for evil-doing by the 49ers.
Of course, this raises the question of why the Browns would be interested in Jim Harbaugh specifically in the first place. Socalisteph put together an excellent breakdown of her thoughts on why this may have come to pass. Although it involves some speculation, it provides one fairly logical explanation for why this might have developed the way it did. These are two sides trying to work out a new contract, and with Tim Kawakami's initial reports late last year that there was friction between Harbaugh and Baalke, maybe they decided they could try and take advantage of the reported situation.
One person not mentioned in any reports (except that of socalisteph) is Harbaugh's agent, David Dunn. I've heard from Texas friends that Dunn was behind the Harbaugh-Texas rumors. I thought that was the case, but had never heard it specifically. The belief is that one reason national NFL media reported on it and college guys were not was because Dunn has their ear. Very few people seem to be asking the question about Dunn's involvement in any of this. I do wonder if he's such a significant source for some media members that they wouldn't dare throw anything on him with this.
Agents can be a powerful source of information, and given that Dunn is one of the most powerful agents in the NFL, this is not surprising. As socalisteph pointed out, it's entirely possible Dunn was the one who made the Browns believe Harbaugh was available. That Dunn would resort to this kind of tactic is not inspiring, but it could be a reality. I have no doubt that there is some kind of tension between Jim Harbaugh and other members of the 49ers. The team has come close to their ultimate goal each of the last three years, and come up short each time.
Jason LaCanfora is reporting that Harbaugh and Baalke speak almost entirely through email at this point. I'm sure there are kernels of truth within LaCanfora's report, but as with any negative report, I think it's worth considering with a grain of salt. Sources are going to have an angle they want presented by providing this information. I could see there being some problems in the Harbaugh-Baalke relationship, and it happens as relationships develop over time. However, I also think a lot of the latest more extreme reports are people piling on because they have cover from the Browns story. I can't say that with certainty, but consider it my educated guess. Some would say, "where there's smoke, there's fire", but maybe people are intentionally creating smoke because they see some off in the distance.
All we can hope for at this point is that the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh get an extension worked out. Until we hear of an extension, we'll be stuck with the PFT's of the world throwing as much out there as they can to prove they were right initially. If the team goes into the 2014 season with an extension still waiting, I can understand why fans would become concerned. It's one reason winning the Super Bowl any of these last three years would have been even better. It would remove that "can he win the big one?" from contract negotiations. But, the 49ers haven't won, and so we're stuck with this side of contract negotiations. Such is life. I don't think the situation is nearly at the level national media would like us to think it is.
Just remember to take a breath on this. After all, I'll take this over the 49ers being entirely irrelevant!