Decoding Harbaugh: Manning, Smith was all about money


So, really, what did 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh say on Wednesday?Rather than bring his press briefing to an end on a question about Isaac Sopoaga, Harbaugh wanted to turn the clock back to the 49ers' interaction with Peyton Manning from more than two months earlier.It's a reasonable guess that Harbaugh's statement was in response to Jon Beason, the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker from the Carolina Panthers. Beason wrote on Twitter last week that the 49ers would've gotten rid of Alex Smith if Peyton Manning had signed with the 49ers.In addressing the Manning issue for the first time in depth on Wednesday, Harbaugh made several conflicting statements. But there were two main points that hold up:1. The 49ers would not have given one-sixth (or 16.7 percent) of their 2012 salary cap to acquire free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning.and . . . 2. The 49ers wanted Alex Smith back regardless of whether they signed Manning.On the first point, the 49ers' adjusted cap after their rollover from 2011 is 138 million. Linebacker Patrick Willis accounts for 12.8 percent of the 49ers' cap at 17.6 million for the 2012 season.
At the time, a well-placed source said Manning's agent had not talked contract specifics with either of the three teams remaining in the picture. But each team knew the "starting point" for negotiations was around five years, 90 million.So if the 49ers were not interested in paying that kind of money, they could've gotten out before Manning called Harbaugh to say he was signing with John Elway's Denver Broncos.
At that point in the offseason, the 49ers were 18 million under the cap. They could've structured the contract in a way to award Manning the same 18 million he received from the Broncos in the first year of the contract while taking a cap hit of around 5 million.So, in other words, the 49ers never would have been forced to invest one-sixth of their cap in Manning. In future years as Manning's cap figure rose, the league's cap would also be rising from the new television contracts.Also, I do not doubt the 49ers would've wanted Smith back on the team even with Manning around, as Harbaugh said on Wednesday."Now, were we out there seeing, evaluating if we could have them both? Heck yeah," Harbaugh said. "And you evaluate that, you eliminate the possibility."Again, this is a matter of money.The 49ers increased their offer to Smith from 8 million guaranteed to 9 million guaranteed after Manning signed with the Broncos, a source told at the time. Throughout the process, the 49ers played hardball with Smith.
Just the same as the 49ers changed their offer to Smith after Manning signed elsewhere, it's reasonable to believe the 49ers would have changed their offer to Smith if they acquired Manning.After all, the contract Smith eventually signed with the 49ers makes him the 19th highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. Does anyone believe the 49ers would've signed Manning and paid Smith a contract commensurate with a starting quarterback.True, the 49ers never took their offer to Smith off the table. That was not necessary. Smith never came to them during that time to sign the 49ers' initial proposal.Harbaugh's initial, unsolicited statement, however, is a lot more difficult to take at face value:"Theres the perception out there, and it's an erroneous perception, that we were flirting with Peyton Manning. . . . It's silly and it's untrue. It's phony. Even the perception that we were pursuing him. We were evaluating him."Yet, Harbaugh admitted Manning called him to let him know of his decision to sign with the Broncos. So, prior to Manning's decision, the 49ers evidently did not remove themselves from the competition to acquire the then-free-agent quarterback.On the topic of which side opened the dialogue between the sides, Harbaugh was evasive. This would've been the time for him to reveal that Manning initially called the 49ers to express his interest.Instead, when asked if Manning made initial contact with the 49ers, Harbaugh answered, "Yeah, like I said, there was interest. We evaluated it, pursued it, or evaluated it and there was conversations."

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