Jim Harbaugh To Earn $16MM Per Year; Chargers Had Mike Vrabel As Second Choice?

After their round of rookie head coaches failed to produce a consistent winner, the Chargers are giving the keys to Jim Harbaugh. The longtime Michigan HC is expected to have final roster say over new GM Joe Hortiz. As expected, a lucrative contract comes with this job.

A report just before Harbaugh agreed to terms with the Bolts indicated the team would not quite meet his initial asking price, which was believed to be in the $18MM-per-year range — a salary Sean Payton is believed to have secured from the Broncos. But the Chargers will pay their new head coach in the same NFL tax bracket, with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio indicating Harbaugh secured a $16MM salary. On a five-year deal, Harbaugh has locked in $80MM.

Coaching salaries remain a mysterious topic in the NFL, since they do not have to be disclosed like player contracts do. No salary cap exists for coaching deals, giving the wealthier owners an advantage in terms of wooing top-tier options. The Chargers do not fall into that category and have been regularly labeled as frugal. This perception affected the organization during its most recent search, but the team that serves as the Rams’ tenant at SoFi Stadium cannot be accused of being cheap this time around.

Michigan is believed to have offered Harbaugh a 10-year deal worth $125MM, but language regarding a potential NCAA suspension and how the Wolverines planned to handle their HC’s annual NFL flirtations complicated matters. The 60-year-old coach came into Chargers negotiations with that as leverage, along with the Falcons’ interest. Harbaugh had scheduled a second Falcons meeting, but amid negotiations with the Bolts, the veteran HC tabled that Atlanta trip.

While this coaching salary is not top-of-the-line money, it is in the upper echelon. To illustrate how much the NFL has changed financially, Harbaugh was tied to a $3.25MM base salary when the Ravens traded him to San Diego in 1999.

Harbaugh will now go about his latest attempt to elevate a team, having done so everywhere he has been previously. Given the value a good head coach provides, $16MM is a relative bargain on an uncapped market. Had Harbaugh boarded the plane to follow through with his second Falcons meeting, however, the Chargers may have needed to go to one of their backup plans. The silver medalist in this race is unlikely to land a coaching job this year.

Had Harbaugh not committed to the Chargers during his second interview, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said during a Pat McAfee Show appearance Mike Vrabel was likely positioned as the team’s second choice. Vrabel interviewed with the Chargers, Falcons and Panthers during this cycle. It has been rather surprising to see the well-regarded HC drift off the radar during this cycle, especially considering the trade rumors that followed him during his final weeks with the Titans. With the Commanders not expected to include him in any course change, Vrabel would be forced to take an assistant job or spend the season out of the NFL.

Vrabel, 48, has coached in the NFL since 2014, serving as the Texans’ defensive coordinator after a three-year run as linebackers coach under Bill O’Brien. Despite Houston’s defense not playing particularly well under then-DC Vrabel in 2017, the assistant wowed Tennessee brass in his HC interview and became a successful HC. He guided the Titans to three straight playoff berths and signed an extension early during the 2022 offseason. Clashes with ownership following GM Jon Robinson‘s ouster led Vrabel out of Nashville.

Vrabel has experience coaching at the college level as well, beginning his coaching career with three seasons on Urban Meyer‘s Ohio State staff. It remains to be seen if Vrabel would consider a college gig again, but it appears the six-year Titans HC will not be leading an NFL team in 2024.

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