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Well, we can reduce by one the number of 49ers who think Jim Harbaugh is a tool.
That one, wide receiver Anquan Boldin, a veteran who has never not known his market value, signed a two-year extension for the same $6 million per BEFORE the start of the free agency period, meaning that he (a) thought this was his best deal, all things considered, and (b) didn’t find the Daily Harbs a daunting enough daily gravel mound to climb.
And yet, Ann Killion of the San Francisco Green Thang columnized a fascinating story Sunday told by someone or some people familiar with the 49er locker room (her description) that a number of players are reaching their sell-by date with the coach, and have remained silent largely because the team wins and because no athlete has less public leverage than an NFL player.
So let’s start with this proposition: Killion doesn’t fabricate, either ideas or quotes. Someone or some people described accurately by her as being “familiar with the locker room” told her a number of players are worn to the marrow by Harbaugh’s general Harbaugh-i-ness.
Now whether it is actually true or not depends on the trustworthiness or familiarity of the source(s). Whether the story they tell matters or not will be borne out by time and the standings.
But this much is for dead lock certain – someone within the 49er hierarchy wanted this story told. That means the ground is clearly being prepared for a public face-saving in case the team and its chief khaki’d architect do part ways after the 2014 season.
[RATTO: Jed York learns valuable lesson]
Now we still maintain all this will be moot if the 49ers win the Super Bowl. At that point Harbaugh and only Harbaugh will decide what happens to Harbaugh, and at what exorbitant yearly figure.
But in case the Lombardi Trophy ceremony doesn’t happen (and the odds, no matter where you procure them, are frankly less than 50-50 in their favor), the chances of Harbaugh staying are even less likely than before, now that the leaking has begun in earnest. Put those chances at a hair above nil, at least barring further developments.
And the fact that the leaking is already in motion in March all but guarantees that this will be the ongoing story of 2014. Not Colin Kaepernick. Not Aldon Smith. Not Michael Crabtree or NaVorro Bowman or Joe Staley or Boldin. Not even the new stadium and its one-price-fits-all car loan-sized beers.
It is Jim Harbaugh, the absolute center of attention as he has been from Day One. Everything he says matters doubly now – everything he does, trebly so. His tin ear for public relations will betray him at times, his political skills will be found wanting, his coaching skills will make his tin ear and his politics moot, but eventually this must shake out, and the eventually comes the day after the 49ers’ season ends, whenever that is.
Thus, more than ever, this is the fight for the soul of the franchise. Win and Harbaugh stays as emperor (Jed York does not want to be portrayed as his father was, bank on that). Lose, and he finds his fortune elsewhere. Sunday’s story shrieks as clearly as a shriek can that there is no longer a middle ground to be held.