‘Who’s got it better than us’ is first and foremost a Harbaugh family idiom. And while Jim Harbaugh has integrated it into his coaching ethos, Don Yee, Harbaugh’s newly hired agent, was hired to ensure that no one has it better than Jim Harbaugh when it comes to cash money. You don’t hire a high-powered agent like Yee to settle for second-best.
The Los Angeles Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons have emerged as the two most serious contenders for Jim Harbaugh. But Michigan can’t be ruled out as a player in the negotiation. In fact they may have the most at stake, which makes them the most motivated to give him a record-breaking contract.
With three players in the mix, a bidding war is inevitable.
The Los Angeles Chargers Can’t Compete In A Bidding War
When comparing the Chargers and the Falcons, there is immediately a significant disparity in two ways. Dean Spanos’ net worth is about $1 billion. Arthur Blank’s is over $8 billion. The latest public data (2022) shows that the Falcon’s operating income is more than double that of the Chargers. While that data isn’t up-to-date, it shows how differently the two franchises have spent money recently.
The Chargers have a lot of money tied up in its current roster and it will continue to as they cut players in 2024 and incur the dead money that goes with that process. As enticing as coaching Justin Herbert is, the Chargers have a rebuild on their hands. The Falcons aren’t in a better place per se, but they have many good pieces in place and are $26 million under the cap.
The long and short of it is if Spanos wants Harbaugh, he is going to have to go deeper into his own pockets to do so and the Chargers are not closer to winning a Super Bowl than the Falcons.
But that doesn’t even factor in the Michigan of it all. They have already offered Harbaugh a 10-year $125 million contract. The estimation is that Harbaugh wants between $15-18 million per year. The bidding already starts at $12.5 million per year. With its 215 million operating budget, Michigan can absolutely afford 2.5 million more per year, especially now that Harbaugh vaulted the school back into national prominence. What is that worth to Michigan? Ask Alabama what Nick Saban was worth to them over the last 16 years.
Michigan Has The Most Leverage
$15 million per year would make Jim Harbaugh the highest-paid college coach in history and a 10-year contract is completely unheard of in the world of NFL coaching contracts. $15 million would put Harbaugh among the top-paid coaches in the league, Sean Payton makes the most at $18 per year. What all the top-paid pro coaches have in common is that they all have at least one Super Bowl ring, something that eluded Harbaugh during his stint with the San Francisco 49ers. Kyle Shanahan is the highest-earning NFL coach without a ring. He makes $10 million a year.
Hiring Harbaugh at that cost would be unprecedented in the NFL and college, but to reiterate, no NFL team would ever match Michigan’s 10-year offer. That kind of security is hard to argue with.
Not to mention that Harbaugh hired Don Yee within a week of getting Michigan’s most recent offer. The fastest way to get more standing in a negotiation is to introduce bargaining chips. Perhaps that is a reason that only two NFL franchises bit at the opportunity to interview him. Could all this hype have been a clever ruse to get Michigan back to the table?
Unfinished Business In The NFL
Harbaugh may want to etch his name among a rare few coaches who have won a national championship and Super Bowl; Paul Brown, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, and Pete Carroll. That’s it. Not only that, but he could get back some bragging rights around family gatherings. Not only does his little brother, John, have a Super Bowl win, he beat Jim to get that win.
Jim Harbaugh’s In The Driver Seat
Jim Harbaugh has all these teams by the short hairs and after winning the CFP his valuation is at its peak, and Yee is doing what he can to inflate it as far as possible.
The Chargers have never been the splurging type and their competition has a leg up when it comes to liquidity. Perhaps the tiger will change its stripes, but just how far are the Spanos’ willing to take that?
Sometimes the laws of physics also apply to human behavior. Newton’s first law of motion states, that a body at rest will stay at rest. Staying in Michigan is representative of that law.
It also states that the body at rest will only stay at rest until acted on by an unbalanced force. Is Harbaugh’s desire to cement his legacy and bragging rights enough to get him out of Ann Arbor? Right now only he knows, but the deck is stacked against the Chargers in this negotiation even if he is actually serious about making the jump back to the NFL.