Why Jim Harbaugh might choose Falcons over Chargers, Michigan

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 21 Michigan at Michigan State

The Falcons are casting a wide net into the hiring pool for a new head coach, but reports suggest that Arthur Blank wants to go “big game hunting” this cycle, and the two biggest names that have interviewed are Bill Belichick and Jim Harbaugh.

Ben Johnson and Bobby Slowik have been dubbed the next great offensive mind, in line to join Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, etc. However, neither offensive coordinator has the experience or pedigree of Harbaugh and Belichick.

Blank seems to be leaning toward someone who’s been there and done that after hiring first-time head coaches and failing over the last decade. The Falcons roster is ready to compete, but Belichick’s timeline doesn’t make a lot of sense for Atlanta right now.

There’s no quarterback worth a damn on the roster, and the roster still needs a little tweaking to get it into a position to actually compete for a Super Bowl, which is obviously Blank’s goal. Belichick just came from a situation without a reliable quarterback. Why would Blank believe things would be different in Atlanta?

Harbaugh, on the other hand, is a decade younger and just as capable of building a championship roster. He’d be willing to stick around as the club figures out the quarterback position, but the biggest question with Harbaugh is how the Falcons could lure him away from Michigan and the Chargers.

First, we have to assume he leaves the college ranks for the NFL, and it’s easy to see why he would. Harbaugh’s Michigan program was hit with several recruiting-related violations by the NCAA and was involved with a sign-stealing scandal that got him suspended for three games this season. The program is embroiled in controversy, and Harbaugh has clearly been a target of the NCAA since coming to Michigan.

Let’s assume that the challenges of running a college program force Jim Harbaugh back into the NFL. How do the Falcons beat out the Chargers, the only other team that has interviewed Harbaugh, for his services?

Well, it isn’t the quarterback position. Justin Herbert is one of the best in the business and the biggest factor in Harbaugh’s interest in going to Los Angeles. When you’ve got a star at the most important position in all of sports, you’ll always be a desirable landing spot for the top candidates.

However, the Chargers job has a lot of downsides. Firstly, Harbaugh will have to compete with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes in the AFC West, while he’d be in arguably the easiest division in the league in the NFC South if he took the Falcons gig.

Moreover, outside of quarterback and left tackle, Los Angeles’ roster is in need of a complete overhaul, but the Chargers are currently $44 million over the 2024 salary cap. Their top cap hits next year are as follows — Khalil Mack ($38.5 million), Joey Bosa ($36.6 million), Keenan Allen ($34.7 million), and Mike Williams ($32.4 million). That’s around 50% of the Chargers total 2024 salary cap. That’s a lot of money committed to injury prone players on the wrong side of 30.

While the Falcons desperately need a quarterback, that’s really the only need. The Falcons could use another pass rusher and wide receiver, but the roster is in great shape with young pieces mixed with some veterans. The Falcons could have as much as $50 million in cap space if the club parted ways with Taylor Heinicke, Lorenzo Carter, and Mike Hughes; all of whom seem expendable at this point.

Both clubs have plenty of draft capital, so that would be a wash. Really the only perks of the Chargers job are Justin Herbert and sunny Los Angeles. On the other hand, the Falcons are a malleable situation where Jim Harbaugh can come in and make it into whatever he wants. It’s ripe with draft capital, cap space, and a talented, yet underachieving roster.

Arthur Blank could surely outbid anyone for Harbaugh’s services, but money might not be what he’s looking for. In October, Harbaugh said this: “You want to be somewhere where you’re wanted. They like what you do and how you do it, and they tell you that. Your bosses tell you that, and then that gets reflected in a contract.”

For all his faults, Arthur Blank is a special human when it comes to relationships; in fact, it’s been his downfall in the past. If Harbaugh is looking for support, there might not be a better situation than the Falcons.

Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire

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