Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers has two years left on his deal. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
The 49ers will want to get a speed wide receiver this offseason, someone who can finally stretch defenses.
They’ll also be in the market for a cornerback, backup quarterback and defensive end.
But perhaps the most important item on the franchise’s to-do list this offseason is to extend the contract of head coach Jim Harbaugh.
When Harbaugh left Stanford in 2011 to take the 49ers job, he signed a five-year, $25 million deal. Now, there are two years remaining on that contract.
If the Niners don’t extend him, the prospect of Harbaugh leaving San Francisco might start to pop up more often in 2014 and beyond. Even this past season, when the University of Texas coaching job became vacant, Harbaugh had to answer questions about his interest in it.
In December, when reports attributed to an unnamed source surfaced that Harbaugh had talked with Texas, Harbaugh denied he had any intention of leaving, and said he wants to stay with the Niners.
“Rumors? Give me evidence. … Any evidence,” he said. “What are we talking, hearsay here? Well in Judge Judy’s court, hearsay is not admissible evidence. I think we can all agree that an unnamed source is hearsay. Would we not?”
Added Harbaugh: “Beware of unnamed sources. They speak with forked tongue.”
What Harbaugh has done in his three seasons leading the 49ers has been remarkable. He rescued the Niners from almost a decade of mediocrity and has helped make them one of the NFL’s marquee franchises again. He has three straight NFC Championship Game appearances, one Super Bowl appearance and an overall record (counting postseason games) of 41-14.
But going forward, the 49ers need to invest in Harbaugh’s long-term future with the team. Now, he’s a known – and coveted – quantity. In combination with GM Trent Baalke and an outstanding staff of assistant coaches, Harbaugh has proved he's worth every penny.
Niners CEO Jed York said in December that he very much wants to extend Harbaugh’s deal.
“We kind of started to talk about a new contract last offseason after the Super Bowl, but it never got to the formal stage of making an offer,” York told Jason Cole of the National Football Post. “I think, rightfully so, Jim believes he has outperformed the original contract.”
Since signing his deal, Harbaugh has become the lowest-paid coach in the NFC West, and York acknowledged that.
“We’ll be talking about something in the offseason that will put him in better position and we’ll see what he wants to do,” York told Cole. “He does have two years left and he may decide to play it out and bet on himself. By the time the deal is done, maybe he’ll be worth $8 (million) or $9 million a year, because he has won a couple of Super Bowls. I sure hope that’s the case.”
But the 49ers shouldn’t take that gamble. It’s time to make Harbaugh an offer he can’t refuse.
Who else could they ever find a head coach who would attack each day with “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind”?