The rumors surrounding the potential offseason separation between Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers are growing more persistent as the regular season reaches its conclusion, and are only exacerbated by losses like the one suffered by San Francisco on Thanksgiving night. At this point, it seems inevitable that the two sides will part ways, and recent reports have suggested that both the Raiders and the Jets would be interested in bringing Harbaugh aboard. If the fourth-year head coach is traded, however, the draft pick cost for the acquiring team will be high, three NFL general managers tell Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report (Twitter link).
Per the executives, a team trading for Harbaugh would likely need to surrender two second-round and two third-round picks (link). As Freeman notes, some clubs could determine that securing a top-flight coach such as Harbaugh is as important as selecting a franchise quarterback. Thus, when compared with the draft pick haul Washington sent to the Rams in order to select Robert Griffin III (three first-round picks and a second-round pick), the suggested price tag for Harbaugh pales in comparison.
However, the GMs who spoke to Freeman allowed that the precedent for such a deal is the trade that sent Jon Gruden from the Raiders to the Buccaneers in 2002. In that transaction, Tampa Bay shipped two first-rounders, two second-rounders, and $8MM to Oakland. Per the executives, the cost for Harbaugh could be close to that (link). Bill Barnwell of Grantland has done work in this area in recent years, suggesting in 2012 that Harbaugh (and other elite head coaches) are severely underpaid. Additionally, as rumors of a Harbaugh-to-Cleveland trade swirled earlier this year, Barnwell argued that the Harbaugh would have been worth both of the Browns’ two 2014 first-round picks, in addition to a $10MM annual salary.
Interestingly, Harbaugh spoke today to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group about his Raiders roots (he was Oakland’s quarterbacks coach from 2002-03), and while he unsurprisingly declined to speak about the possibility of taking over as the Raiders’ head coach, he did wax nostalgic about his time with the Black and Gray, and specifically noted his fondness for the late Al Davis. Former Raiders coach John Madden told Inman that Davis had high hopes for Harbaugh down the road. “Somewhere in Al’s mind, he had it that someday Jim would be the Raiders head coach,” said Madden. “I don’t know if Jim ever had that in his mind.”
Zach Links contributed to this post.