5:36pm: 49ers CEO Jed York denied the rumor via Twitter.
4:58pm: Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report hears from multiple source that Florio’s report is “essentially accurate,” with one source telling Freeman there were “extensive discussions between the Browns and Niners (Twitter link).
3:58pm: While the Browns didn’t deny the PFT report, a 49ers source calls it “ridiculous” and “completely false,” according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).
Of course, whether or not the initial report is true, it makes sense for the Niners to deny it, since they’re moving forward with Harbaugh in charge. For the Browns, as I wrote below, the report suggests that the team was aiming high in its coaching search, so Cleveland may be less inclined to publicly shoot it down.
3:47pm: Jim Harbaugh nearly became the first NFL head coach traded since the Jets sent Herm Edwards to Kansas City in 2006, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Citing multiple league sources, Florio reports that the Browns had a deal in place that would have sent multiple draft picks to the 49ers in exchange for the rights to Harbaugh, but the San Francisco coach decided to stay put. On the heels of Florio’s report, the Browns have released a statement in which the team didn’t deny pursuing Harbaugh.
“The team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options,” said the Browns in the statement. “That search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine and we’re excited about his future with the club” (Twitter links via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal).
The Browns were the NFL’s last team to hire a head coach this offseason, and their long, laborious search was believed to have contributed to GM Mike Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner losing their jobs. If Florio’s report on Harbaugh is true, it adds another odd wrinkle to the team’s lengthy coaching hunt, and shows how high Cleveland was aiming in its search for Rob Chudzinski‘s replacement. The Browns ultimately hired Pettine, the former Bills’ defensive coordinator, as their head coach.
Had Harbaugh agreed to coach the Browns, and had the two teams agreed on fair compensation, the divisional rivalry between the Browns and Ravens would’ve taken on a new importance as well, with Jim and John Harbaugh squaring off twice a year. Ultimately though, it seems as if the younger Harbaugh was just one of many coaching candidates the Browns targeted but couldn’t reel in.