The San Francisco 49ers lost to the Oakland Raiders Sunday afternoon, and the franchise now finds itself at a crossroads. The rumors of the last ten months have made the whole season feel like a crossroads, but really this franchise has simply been approaching the point at which we now reside. This team is not going to the playoffs, and with the future so uncertain, decisions will be made that could impact this team for a long time to come.
Sunday morning saw another round of reports on the future of Jim Harbaugh. The first report was from Ian Rapoport, stating that the University of Michigan had reached out to Harbaugh, but had come away thinking he preferred staying in the NFL. There was a later report by Albert Breer in which Breer said Harbaugh might still be a little salty (my word) about the team not considering him for the 2008 opening.
This was all then followed by Ian Rapoport discussing the Oakland Raiders head coach position. Rapoport said there was some mutual interest between the Raiders and Jim Harbaugh. He said the Raiders wanted a "rock star" type candidate, while Jim Harbaugh is looking to keep his family in the Bay Area, and is a big fan of Derek Carr.
The 49ers have several options on the table, although some might force them into a more difficult situation than others. The team could elect to fire him. If Jed York and Trent Baalke are sufficiently unhappy with Jim Harbaugh for whatever reason, I would not be at all shocked if that happened before the season ended. If they do not think they can get enough in a trade, or if they simply lack the patience to play this out into January, then they fire him, get no compensation, and go from there.
A trade is on the table, but would seemingly not be executed until January. Trading a head coach is different than trading a player. Jim Harbaugh does not have to coach for another team if he does not want to, which means a trade is not as simple as agreeing to terms and being done. Rapoport broke it down in the video above. It amounts to the following:
1. Harbaugh has to OK any trade
2. The 49ers would negotiate terms with a particularly club, likely after Jim Harbaugh has said he would be fine going to that team.
3. One trade terms are agreed to, the 49ers would release Harbaugh from his contract.
4. The new team would negotiate a new contract with Jim Harbaugh. If they could not come to terms, I believe he would revert back to the 49ers, although it is possible some other kind of settlement would be reached since that would be really awkward in 2015.
On that last option, there is always the chance the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh come to some kind of settlement on his contract, which is some combination of firing and resignation, and he sits out the year, before returning in 2016.
As for a trade, there has been plenty of speculation as to what that might entail. People have talked about first round picks, but given that most people assume Harbaugh is gone sooner rather than later, the 49ers leverage is likely a bit limited. Some have suggested something similar to the Alex Smith trade, which ended up being a pair of second round picks.
My guess is that if a trade was made, it would be for a mid-round pick, such as a 3rd or 4th rounder, or maybe a couple such picks. It would be significantly less than the two firsts and two seconds Tampa Bay sent to Oakland for Jon Gruden. But I have to think it would be more than the fifth round pick the 49ers ended up getting for Terrell Owens. I realize that is a very wide range, and I am more inclined to think it is on the lesser end of that spectrum, but who really knows given how unique this situation is.
There has been some chatter today that the 49ers will likely wait until after the season to sort through this. That makes the most sense, but you never know how emotions will handle all this. I think most of us expect a loss up in Seattle next week, but if it ends in an ugly rout, maybe Jed York gets a little too emotional and pulls the trigger on a coaching change.
The 49ers have a short week after that, facing San Diego the following Saturday. That might normally be a consideration, but given that the 49ers would be 7-7 and officially eliminated from playoff contention, does that really matter? You want the team to be prepared for the following game, but considering they would be officially playing out the string, does it really matter?
There are plenty of people that still think all the chatter is hot air, and Jim Harbaugh will be around next year. It is possible Harbaugh is back in 2015, but I just can't see that happening given how this thing is crumbling. I'm open to convincing as to why he will be back, but I'm skeptical at best. This whole thing has turned into a dumpster fire, the likes of which we have not seen since John York fired Steve Mariucci after the 2002 season. I think we all are hoping we do not see a repeat of that.
I've included a poll just to see how people think this plays out. There are a lot of ways this situation resolves itself, so read through the options, and let me know what you think will apply.