INDIANAPOLIS: The Browns aren’t denying an eye-opening report from ProFootballTalk.com that says the organization nearly pulled off a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for the rights to coach Jim Harbaugh before it hired coach Mike Pettine on Jan. 23 after a 25-day search.
In response to the report that was published Friday evening, Browns spokesman Zak Gilbert issued the following statement: “The team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options. That search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine and we’re excited about his future with the club.”
On the other hand, 49ers owner Jed York issued a denial via Twitter. “Report isn’t true,” he wrote on his official account in response to a tweet from ProFootballTalk.com.
A 49ers spokesman did not immediately respond to an email from the Beacon Journal. An unnamed 49ers source told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that the report is “completely false. Ridiculous.”
According to ProFootballTalk.com’s report, a deal that would have sent multiple draft picks to the 49ers was in place between the teams, but Harbaugh ultimately decided not to leave San Francisco.
“Speculation that I’ve heard is that Harbaugh’s family, specifically his wife [Sarah], wanted to stay put,” ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio said Friday during an interview with Bay Area radio station 95.7 The Game.
Harbaugh is a friend of former Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi, whom owner Jimmy Haslam fired last week along with CEO Joe Banner. Lombardi’s son, Mick, joined the 49ers last year as an assistant to Harbaugh.
Friction between Harbaugh and 49ers GM Trent Baalke has been a hot topic in the Bay Area for the past few months. Harbaugh engaged in contract talks with the 49ers before the discussions broke off last year. He has two years remaining on a five-year deal worth $5 million per year.
If such a trade actually came to fruition, it would have been shocking because Harbaugh has led the 49ers to the NFC title game in each of his first three seasons with the team. Harbaugh, 50, also would have had to face his brother, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, twice a year if he joined the AFC North.
Haslam and Banner embarked on their drawn-out search last month after firing coach Rob Chudzinski, who went 4-12 during his lone season on the job. Like Chudzinski, Harbaugh was born in Toledo.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl the season after their trade with the Oakland Raiders for coach Jon Gruden in 2002. The Buccaneers traded the following draft picks for Gruden: a first-round choice in 2002, a second-round selection in 2002, a first-round pick in 2003 and a second-round choice in 2004.
Welcoming a brilliant man
Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano couldn’t resist the chance to add a “great resource” in Chudzinski, especially since their personal and professional ties date to 1986. Fired on Dec. 29, Chudzinski was hired by the Colts on Feb. 8 as special assistant to the head coach.
“He’ll be heavily involved with a lot of the things I do on a daily basis,” Pagano said Friday during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “He’ll be a great resource for me, for our entire coaching staff, not only our offensive staff, defensive staff, special teams, game day management.
“He’s a brilliant guy, a really bright guy, a very smart guy and a really good football coach. He’s well-versed in a lot of different areas.”
Pagano said he has known Chudzinski since 1986, when Pagano was a graduate assistant in his third year coaching at the University of Miami and Chudzinski was a freshman tight end.
St. Louis Rams General Manager Les Snead believes Haslam hit a home run by promoting Ray Farmer to GM last week in the wake of firing Lombardi.
“I definitely do [think he’ll succeed],” Snead said. “You’ve got to project, our job is to project. So I’m projecting. I would invest in Ray Farmer.”
In 2002, Snead oversaw the Atlanta Falcons’ pro scouting operations, and he hired Farmer as a pro scout. It was Farmer’s first job in an NFL personnel department.
Snead said he was impressed with Farmer because of his experience as a former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker, his passion for the game and his intelligence.
“I’m a big believer in hiring people smarter than yourself,” Snead said. “He graduated from Duke, so that shows you he’s smarter than I am.
“That was one of the best decisions and easiest I’ve ever made.”
Calling his shot
Kent State running back and wide receiver Dri Archer made a bold prediction about how he’ll perform in the 40-yard dash Sunday at the combine.
“I’m going to break the record [in the 40-yard dash],” Archer said.
Archer said he posted a personal-best time of 4.21 seconds in the spring of 2012 indoors and on turf at Kent State. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson set the combine record in 2008 with a time of 4.24 seconds.
Why would Archer feel compelled to call his shot?
“I feel confident in myself,” said Archer, who has been training in Orlando, Fla., with speed coach Tom Shaw. “It’s been a goal of mine for a while.
The 5-foot-8, 173-pound Archer also has faith that his quickness will make him a dangerous weapon in the NFL.
“Speed is something you can’t really coach,” Archer said. “You can’t just go out and buy speed anywhere. Guys like me, smaller guys, are going to cause a lot of problems in the league.”
Bad weather? No problem
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron believes he could thrive in any environment in the NFL, even the one in which the Browns play their home games.
“I would love Cleveland,” said McCarron, whom NFLDraftScout.com projects as a second- or third-round pick. “It doesn’t matter where I play. We can go out and play in this parking lot.
“I’d definitely have to get used to the weather [in Cleveland]. But there have been plenty of guys who have come from the south [to play] up north. I’m pretty sure I’d be able to handle it.”
If new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was pitching the notion to Farmer of trading for Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, that option might be off the table.
The Redskins have no plans or any interest in trading Cousins, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, because of starter Robert Griffin III’s injury history. After the season, Cousins said, “There’s no chance to compete, so if I can’t get it in D.C., I’d be open to having that chance somewhere else.”
Meanwhile, Rapoport is speculating about a potential reunion between Pettine and Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd. Pettine spent last season as the Bills’ defensive coordinator, and Byrd is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 11. The Bills, though, could use their franchise tag on Byrd to keep him off the market for the second year in a row.
“Hear the possibility of reunion between Browns coach Mike Pettine and safety Jairus Byrd is real,” Rapoport wrote on Twitter. “Bills could complicate with a tag and trade.”
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch said the Browns were one of 10 teams he’d met with at the combine. “Cleveland seems to be a team looking for quarterbacks,” Lynch said. … Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said he had an informal meeting with the Browns and expected to have a formal interview with them at the combine. At Athletes’ Performance Institute in Los Angeles, Garoppolo spent three days over two weeks working with former Browns quarterback Ty Detmer as they try to improve his footwork and mechanics of his quick release. … University of Washington running back Bishop Sankey revealed his little-known connection to Northeast Ohio. He moved back and forth from Washington to Ohio and attended Wadsworth High School for a few months as a freshman. He went on to star for Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Wash.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.