Call it kismet, serendipity or just plain dumb luck, but a week after Jim Harbaugh was linked to trade rumors the San Francisco 49ers travel across the bay Sunday to take on the Oakland Raiders, one of the teams reportedly interested in the head coach.
A poor relationship with 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, coupled with what’s been described by many as an abrasive personality, Harbaugh has four games to turn his 7-5 team around and make a deep postseason run in order to earn a contract extension and stay in San Francisco. Otherwise, according to ESPN, the 49ers will explore options to trade Harbaugh in the offseason.
The Raiders, along with the New York Jets, are mentioned in ESPN’s report as interested in acquiring Harbaugh via trade, but any such deal is unlikely to be discussed or consummated until the offseason.
Ahead and after Sunday’s game, Harbaugh will likely field questions about a potential move to Oakland, and will also rebuff any such talk while San Francisco tries to move up from third place in the crowded NFC West. The 49ers are coming off a harrowing 19-3 Thanksgiving Day loss to the rival Seattle Seahawks, which dropped them to 1-3 in the division and a game back of the NFC Wild Card race.
There is still a chance for Harbaugh to lead the 49ers to the postseason for a fourth straight season. After facing 1-11 Oakland, San Francisco has a difficult rematch with the Seahawks in Seattle, but ends the season with two straight home games versus San Diego and Arizona, two good but not invincible teams.
But should the 49ers miss the postseason, that’s unlikely to deter struggling and playoff-hungry squads like the Raiders and Jets. Oakland hasn’t made the postseason since 2002, when they were blown out by Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl. Interim Raiders head coach Tony Sparano likely won’t be offered the full-time position, going 1-7 since taking over for the fired Dennis Allen on Sept. 30.
Under Rex Ryan the Jets went to two straight AFC championship games in his first two seasons, but they’ve missed the playoffs the last four years amid cries for Ryan to pay for the team’s poor performance with his job. The New York Daily News even speculated that Jets owner Woody Johnson might consider a total overhaul of the club, with both Ryan and general manager John Idzik to be shown the door at the end of the season.
Neither Oakland nor New York, clearly, are held back by obligations to current coaches, but what will hold up any trade is the haul San Francisco desires for Harbaugh. Despite his issues with management, the 50-year-old guided San Francisco to three straight NFC title games and came one play away from winning a Super Bowl, a proven track record any number of teams would love to take on.
The price for Harbaugh may have been set when San Francisco reportedly almost traded him to the Cleveland Browns in February for two third-round picks, a pittance compared to the two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million the Raiders received from Tampa Bay for Jon Gruden back in 2002.
But since its well-known that San Francisco would prefer to trade Harbaugh with one year left on a contract paying him $5 million a season, the Raiders, Jets or any other team would hold a significant amount of leverage in any negotiations.
A dark horse candidate could be the New York Giants. The Daily News indicated that the Giants might also pursue Harbaugh if they decide to part ways with Tom Coughlin, a possibility that gained more traction after Week 13’s crippling, last-second loss to the downtrodden Jacksonville Jaguars. However, the Daily News points out, the Giants are unlikely to give Harbaugh total control of the team, which could mean a repeat of his tenure in San Francisco.
Michigan, Harbaugh’s alma mater, could also be an option. The Wolverines fired Brady Hoke on Tuesday, and Harbaugh’s been linked to the opening before. Las Vegas odds makers also tabbed Harbaugh as the best bet to land in Ann Arbor, according the Detroit Free Press. Based off his stellar work at Stanford, ties to Michigan, and success at every level of football, Harbaugh’s a candidate the Wolverines could aggressively pursue.
Where Harbaugh lands in the near future remains to be seen, and the same can also be said of recently reinstated and former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Rice, 28, wasn’t one of five running backs to work out for NFL teams Tuesday, according to ProFootballTalk, even after the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints were reportedly interested in him.
The Colts and Saints were two of four teams linked to Rice, ESPN reported, but the two other teams wished not be identified in the story.
Both New Orleans and Indianapolis are need of more depth in their backfields, with injuries taking a toll throughout the season and each vying for division titles and the playoffs.
In 2013, Rice rushed for 660 yards and averaged 3.1 yards per carry. It was a steep drop off from the previous four seasons when he rushed for over 1,100 yards each year.