Another season, another near miss.
The 49ers once again had an impressive regular season but fell just shy of their Super Bowl championship aspirations. The 49ers now face several critical roster decisions this offseason. The futures of both Anquan Boldin and Donte Whitner are unknown. NaVorro Bowman’s gruesome leg injury now also leaves some questions for the defense.
The two biggest contracts yet to be decided, however, just happen to be the two biggest pieces to the 49ers championship puzzle — head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The question now is what the 49ers should do with their respective contracts? The topic will undoubtedly lead to a lot of debate within the 49ers organization. I’ll break down the upcoming contract situations for both:
Current contract: $5 million per year through 2015
The case for re-sigining:
Harbaugh’s record as head coach speaks for itself. Harbaugh led the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl appearance in his first three years as 49ers head coach. Harbaugh accomplished this is in his first three years as an NFL head coach. No other head coach in NFL history has achieved this feat.
Simply put, Jim Harbaugh is the best coach in the NFL. He may not be the friendliest or most media-savvy coach in the league, but he gets the job done. He turned around the Stanford program and he turned around the 49ers organization. Harbaugh has instilled a culture of winning that will continue for years to come. Do you really think the 49ers would have a shot at premier free agents if Mike Singletary was still the head coach? Unlikely.
For anyone thinking that Colin Kaepernick is the reason for the 49ers’ recent success, let’s not forget that in 2011, Harbaugh led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and nearly missed the Super Bowl with Alex Smith as his quarterback. Harbaugh won with Alex Smith and he won with Colin Kaepernick. For all you mathematicians out there, the common denominator in the 49ers’ success is Jim Harbaugh. If somehow Colin Kaepernick decides to test out free agency and leave the 49ers, my guess is that Harbaugh will also be able to win with any quarterback that would fill Kap’s shoes.
The case for letting Harbaugh walk:
Does anybody remember the Buffalo Bills under head coach Marv Levy circa 1988-1993? I do — and I was barely in elementary school. The Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s are synonymous with falling just short. The Bills made a mesmerizing four straight trips to the Super Bowl. They lost all of them. Is Jim Harbaugh the second-coming of Marv Levy? Only time will tell. As of now, however, he’s fared no better.
The funny thing with the NFL is that regular season success is quickly overshadowed by championship ineptitude — see Dan Marino, Jim Irsay-Peyton Manning, Andy Dalton, etc. Yes, Harbaugh has proven undoubtedly that he can take this team to the NFC championship and to the Super Bowl, but he hasn’t shown he can win it. I’ll give Harbaugh the benefit of a doubt, the NFC Championship losses in Seattle and against the Giants were not losses by the coaching staff. These losses were the result of poor plays on behalf of the players. The Super Bowl loss on the other hand raises doubt. Harbaugh was just short of the goal-line and decided not to run the ball at all. Why? I still have no answer, but it makes me question his ability to seal the game when it matters the most.
There are also issues with Harbaugh’s character. It’s no secret that Harbaugh and 49ers GM Trent Balke have an ongoing competitive tension between each other. Former 49er running back, Brandon Jacobs, also recently lashed out against Harbaugh. Harbaugh is an emotional in-your-face kind of guy and this may rub some players the wrong way.
Harbaugh has to produce a championship within the contract extension period he will likely receive. Maybe it was his fault for setting the bar too high for himself? Whatever it is, if Harbaugh continues to lose in the NFC Championship game or the Super Bowl, then this may be the last extension he’ll get with the 49ers.
Recommendation: Contract extension this offseason at $7 million per year through 2020