(UPDATE, 6:15 p.m. ET: 49ers CEO Jed York tweeted the "Report isn't true," following a contentious online exchange between Pro Football Talk and Ian Rapoport.)
The Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers nearly pulled off a blockbuster trade recently that would have sent Jim Harbaugh to Cleveland in exchange for draft picks, Pro Football Talk reported. According to Mike Florio, the deal "was in place between the teams"; Harbaugh nixed it to stay with San Francisco.
Cleveland then hired ex-Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
"The team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options," the Browns said in a statement Friday. "That search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine and we're excited about his future with the club."
The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that a 49ers source called the report "completely false. Ridiculous."
Harbaugh's current contract situation is hovering over the 49ers' offseason a bit. He's currently through three seasons of the five-year, $25 million deal he signed prior to 2011, but the two sides reportedly have discussed an extension. Harbaugh said in December that he "absolutely" wants to remain in San Francisco.
However, final say over the roster currently rests with GM Trent Baalke, a dynamic with which Harbaugh reportedly may not be all that thrilled. According to CSNBayArea, the 49ers also gave Harbaugh permission last offseason to seek his own endorsement deals up to $1 million.
The Browns hold two first-round picks in the 2014 draft: Nos. 4 and 26 overall. Terms of the proposed Harbaugh deal were not released, but it stands to reason that at least one and possibly both of those picks could have headed San Francisco's way in exchange for its head coach.
Suffice it to say, had the trade gone through, it would have been a stunning moment in NFL history, though not an unprecedented one. The Patriots sent the Jets a first-round draft pick in 2000. Then, in 2002, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Jon Gruden away from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million. Gruden then led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory -- over the Raiders, no less -- the subsequent season. The Jets and Chiefs also pulled off a coach trade, in 2006 with Herm Edwards moving to New York for a fourth-round pick.
For as much as the Browns' statement stands out for its lack of a denial, that this potential trade reportedly reached the point of simply needing Harbaugh's go-ahead hardly stands as a glowing endorsement of his future in San Francisco. After winning the NFC title in 2012 and taking the 49ers back to the conference title game in 2013, Harbaugh hardly could be considered on the hot seat. The lingering contract talks and perhaps that complicated relationship with Baalke pushed the 49ers to explore such a possibility.
Throughout Cleveland's lengthy coaching search, there was chatter about the possibility of at least one "mystery" candidate for the position. At one point in January, the team reportedly interviewed Greg Schiano, a development that at least temporarily appeared to solve that puzzle. The truth, it turns out, ran much deeper than that.