Opinion: Raiders, not UM, seem like best fit for Harbaugh
Is Raiders owner Mark Davis ready to step in, ante up, and win the Jim Harbaugh Auction?
I think Davis could do that.
Is Harbaugh ready to bolt from the 49ers to the Raiders, embrace Al Davis' legacy and try to figure out how to end the long procession of defeats?
I think he might be.
Will 49ers CEO Jed York sign off on a deal to let Harbaugh make such a unique move to a Bay Area competitor?
We know York and general manager Trent Baalke are planning to move on from Harbaugh very soon after this season. But would they let him go to the Raiders?
That's one of the trickiest parts of a scenario that already has 10 or 12 variables all in flux and all unknowable for now.
Once the regular season ends, this could twist and turn a hundred different ways, with a thousand different final results, and everybody involved knows that.
But what's the path that gives Harbaugh most of what he'd want in his next job?
From discussions I've had with people who know Harbaugh well and from what I've consistently heard from NFL sources, the Raiders seem to fit Harbaugh's ideal scenario better than any other team.
He might be the only guy who thinks that way, but he's the main one who matters at this point.
Let's go through some of the criteria:
Every indication is that Harbaugh wants to stay in the NFL and win a Lombardi Trophy, which is impossible to do at the University of Michigan.
Do you think Harbaugh wants to leave the NFL after watching his brother and then Pete Carroll win the Super Bowl the past two seasons?
Harbaugh and his family also are believed to have a strong preference to remain in the Bay Area -- which is one of the reasons he picked the 49ers in 2011, with many other options back then.
Notably, Harbaugh has never coached anywhere outside the state of California since Al Davis gave him his first job in 2002, and Harbaugh has been in northern California for 10 of those years.
Harbaugh wants to join a team with some talent, especially at quarterback, and the Raiders have Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and a lot of salary-cap space going into next offseason.
Would Harbaugh be scared to join a downtrodden team that might finish 2-14 this season? Well, he took over Stanford after a 1-11 season and the 49ers after 6-10.
He actually likes the tough turnaround jobs -- that's exactly when his burst of wild energy and competitive mayhem works best.
Also, there's little doubt that Harbaugh would love to win big in the same media market as the 49ers -- and he could help get another stadium built in the Bay Area.
Meanwhile, after his battles with Baalke soured his entire 49ers tenure, it would be immensely significant for Harbaugh to get the chance to bring in a hand-picked GM.
My understanding is that the Raiders are open to that, partly because the likeliest candidate is Eagles exec Tom Gamble -- who worked with Harbaugh with the 49ers and was one of Al Davis' last close confidantes.
Can Mark Davis afford the expected $8 million a year it would take to land Harbaugh, then also buy out Reggie McKenzie's final two years plus add a new GM and new personnel staff?
I'm told Davis understands none of this comes cheap and that he needs a major lift from the team's performance to land the best stadium deal.
As the days dwindle on his current lease in Oakland, it's looking more likely that Davis could agree to one more short-term deal with the Coliseum, at least for the 2015 season.
If Davis can land Harbaugh, the Raiders can play out 2015 as a glamour team -- and wait to see if Oakland can get anything done, while Los Angeles looms in the background possibly for 2016.
Of course, Harbaugh will have other bidders, possibly including the Jets, the Bears, the Dolphins and, yes, Michigan.
Hey, Harbaugh might be wary of the Raiders' nebulous stadium situation.
Or Mark Davis could have second thoughts about moving McKenzie out.
Or York could make it tough because Harbaugh still has another year on his 49ers contract, which is why the 49ers are making noises about getting a good draft pick in a Harbaugh trade.
But it makes sense for the 49ers, at some point, to just do a deal so they can get their own search started.
And it makes sense for everybody to get this done, eventually, if that's what everybody wants.
Nothing this season has been reasonable, but maybe the Raiders and 49ers can start 2015 by making a reasonable deal: Harbaugh to the Raiders for a fourth-round pick.
Then the 49ers can hire their next guy, the Raiders move on with Harbaugh, and everything begins again.