Friday afternoon saw the release of a rather odd report from Mike Florio over at Pro Football Talk. That report states that the Cleveland Browns attempted to and nearly pulled off a trade for San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh this past offseason.
No, seriously. That's what the report says.
Citing multiple league sources, Florio says the deal would have sent "multiple draft picks to San Francisco," but that Harbaugh "ultimately decided not to leave the 49ers." Florio does correctly note that such a trade would be "stunning" and it absolutely would have turned the NFL on its head, in a way we haven't seen since the Oakland Raiders traded Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a simpler time.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation described it best in his headline, which reads "Jim Harbaugh was 'nearly traded' to Browns, per random ass PFT report." As Fucillo notes, there are several people claiming to have heard word of this possibility previously, but they were unable to get confirmation/a second source. He also points out that, with the University of Texas rumors this past offseason, it sounds like this kind of thing isn't going away anytime soon.
But how about official word? Well, the Browns themselves didn't outright deny it, but they did also give the general PR response. As noted by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in a series of Tweets, the Browns said that they conducted an extensive search that produced an "outstanding head coach in (Mike) Pettine and we're excited about his future with the club."
For the 49ers, Ian Rapoport struck first, citing an inside source who says that the report is "completely false," and "ridiculous." Pro Football talk later told Rapoport that his source was wrong, and asked why the 49ers won't simply deny it on the record.
Then team president Jed York happened:
That's about as definitive as it gets. At the very least, it's possible that the Browns did think outside the box and considered the possibility of acquiring Harbaugh. He's fond of the team and fond of the area, and it's not a stretch to think he might want to coach there.
But a team theoretically considering the possibility that a crazy trade might be able to happen and a deal "nearly getting done" are two entirely different things. It's easy to buy that the Browns, the last team to come to terms with a new head coach this offseason, explored all manner of potential options to get someone in place.
We're also not ruling out voodoo, going back in time and signing Bill Belichick before the Patriots managed to do so and picking random names out of a hat as potential boons to their coaching search. Whatever the case, Harbaugh is in San Francisco and Pettine will move forward in charge of the Browns.