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Why the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh can deny the Florio report

Jed York and Jim Harbaugh have both denied the PFT report authored by Mike Florio. We look at the possible sources of the PFT report, why there is little credibility, and why the discussions never reached actual terms.

Ezra Shaw

The recent PFT article on the "almost" deal trading Jim Harbaugh from the San Francisco 49ers to the Cleveland Browns has stirred quite the brouhaha. Niners Nation has described it as a roller coaster and it really has been an interesting chain of events.

At first blush, I completely dismissed the notion made by Mike Florio. However, my nature is inquisitive and the statements made by Florio and others made me consider the plausibility in some of the bizarre circumstances, especially after each new assertion or denial.

Here at SB Nation, writers are fans. I cannot pretend the idea of losing Harbaugh did not cause me some anxiety. The pre-Harbaugh era weighed heavily on my mind.

In just three years, Harbaugh has almost eradicated the Mike Singletary stench. Harbaugh's teams were a fumble away from the Super Bowl in 2012, yards away from a Super Bowl Championship in 2013, and a finger away from the Super Bowl in 2014. I cannot stomach serious criticism of his coaching talents, and struggle to understand why the team would even entertain something like that.

Now, as a Cal fan, I am very much aware of Harbaugh's supposed personality disorders. I criticized Harbaugh's on-field antics and media responses long before any NFL fan. My familiarity with his personality and dislike of his bizarre on-field behavior made me question the 49ers choice. At this point in time, I find his personality amusing because he is on my side. I think he is a great coach.

However, I find it comical that some focus on Harbaugh's unlikeable personality. It is not breaking news. People at Stanford have said he wore people out. Harbaugh has a very dramatic and sometimes difficult personality. This is no secret. If I knew this about Coach Harbaugh over three years ago, so did the 49ers.

It has been asserted there is serious tension between Harbaugh and Trent Baalke. Is it possible? Absolutely. If true, however, Baalke and Harbaugh have managed to conceal it very well. There have been rumblings, but there has been no overt issues from either of them. And, these two "alpha types" have found a way to work considerably well together these past three years.

I do not doubt Harbaugh and Baalke have differences in personalities and philosophies. But what they do share is the will to win. And if they can pull it together to get this team to the NFC Championship three years in a row, it is difficult to say this so-called feud is having a real impact. If there is tension, it is because they have not won it all. But, I think they know they must work together to do this.

When the rumors started about Harbaugh supposedly going to Texas, Jed York stated the 49ers wanted a long term relationship with Coach Harbaugh. So, if we know the 49ers want to work out a long term deal with Coach Harbaugh and Harbaugh feels he deserves an extension, it is reasonable to say both parties want an agreement but negotiations remain at a standstill.

Yesterday, Tim Kawakami wrote an article with some theories. Some of his presumptions made sense and were logical, but I am not sure the actual story is all that complicated. From my experience in negotiations with teams and athletes, Kawakami's comparison to big-time poker was an excellent illustration. More or less, negotiations between an agent and a team is a game of chicken.

The Browns are not a lucrative franchise. Everyone knows that. Why would Harbaugh (or anyone else) want to leave top-notch facilities and staff, a brand new stadium, and a championship contending team for the Browns? It is my belief the Browns were merely a pawn in the Harbaugh-49ers standoff.

When negotiating, it is not unusual for a player's or coach's agent to manufacture a demand for their client. Harbaugh may not have been entirely aware of it either. Likewise, a team can utilize the interest of another team to create a trade threat. If Harbaugh desires to stay with a team, market leverage gained by the agent can be lost. The Browns' interest in Harbaugh effectively gave both sides a leveraging tool.

Realistically, it is unlikely either side wanted Harbaugh traded to the Browns. Harbaugh's people and the 49ers were playing a popular negotiation game and neither side veered away. The standoff probably went a little further than they may have planned, but a trade was probably never a reality to either side.

I would not be surprised if the 49ers and Harbaugh's agent were pretty convincing and made Mike Lombardi believe a trade was possible. Perhaps Lombardi even believed he was "close" to a deal for the Browns. And perhaps he led others within the organization to believe he "almost" had a trade in place. But, Harbaugh "decided not to leave the 49ers" because a trade was never a reality. Point goes to the San Francisco 49ers in this game of chicken. And Mike Lombardi got canned.

Although Mike Florio did not pull the story from thin air, he obviously went the sensational route. He had no interest in looking at the story dispassionately. In his childish efforts to protect his source, he basically identified him. When one reads the original PFT report, the article calls the "near deal" "stunning" and "the most unpredictable outcome of any head coaching search since Jon Gruden...." The article is written so favorably that it makes one person look like a quasi-genius, i.e., Mike Lombardi. Re-reading the report with everything we know, coupled with the denials from both Harbaugh and the 49ers, it becomes pretty obvious who the source is.

Lombardi has the motive. After all, he informed us of the mystery coach. If he actually believed the deal was close and did not go through -- and was subsequently fired by the Browns -- you can see why he would be a little salty. Further, the article paints Lombardi in an unrestrained, positive light. There may be other sources, including those from the Browns organization who believed it to be true. And, I wouldn't find it hard to believe if Harbaugh's agent had a hand in it.

Florio obviously accepted everything at face value and did not ask his sources the right questions. I understand Florio is an attorney, but he must have been a pretty terrible one. Lawyering requires logical analysis, asking questions, thinking through every possible theory. And when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Browns getting Harbaugh with multiple draft picks would have been too good to be true. In law, and Florio should know this, there have to be actual terms in a deal (or an "almost" deal).

Sorry Florio, you got fooled by the pawn, the person used to further contract negotiations. Lombardi and the Browns may have believed they were making a legitimate run at Harbaugh. However, it seems like it was more of a fruitless attempt at something with almost no likelihood of success. Nonetheless, the 49ers and Team Harbaugh were playing a game of chicken, and it would seem it was Harbaugh's agent who eventually yielded.