The Baltimore Ravens and John Harbaugh are very likely headed to a "mutual parting of the ways" in 2019, sources said, but the former Super Bowl winning head coach is not in any jeopardy of an in-season firing, contrary to some recent speculation.
The odds of Harbaugh being back in Baltimore in 2019 are quite bleak, according to several sources close to the situation, with next year set to be the final year of his contract. There will not be another one-year extension forthcoming, I'm told (Harbaugh agreed to such a deal prior to last season to avoid a looming "lame duck" season), and with rising general manager Eric DeCosta set to take over for Ozzie Newsome after the season, and the Ravens facing a possible roster overhaul, there is a strong sense that these sides will be moving on amicably.
Harbaugh was hired by owner Steve Bisciotti in 2008, replacing Super Bowl winning coach Brian Billick, and, along with first-round pick Joe Flacco, began a fruitful era of Ravens football, culminating in a Lombardi Trophy in 2012. But the team is 44-45 since winning that title, and Bisciotti has ruminated in his postseason press conferences about mulling coaching changes before. At 4-5, the Ravens face a tough task of getting back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.
The team's recent drafts have produced few impact players. Flacco's tenure in Baltimore is also winding down. And with seven of Baltimore's eight highest-paid players for 2019 all over the age of 30 and potential offseason cuts or trades, and with Harbaugh poised to become a highly-coveted coaching candidate for myriad NFL or NCAA jobs, it would require a substantial recommitment to retain him, further complicated by the change of power in the GM position.
The situation seems strikingly similar to that of Harbaugh's coaching mentor, Andy Reid, around the time of his departure after a long-and-storied career in Philadelphia, something not lost on many of Harbaugh's friends and associates around the league. The Ravens, with their future tied strongly to the progress of 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson, will be looking for an offensive-guru type to develop him; that usually requires giving the head-coaching title to such a candidate, as teams block top talent from making lateral moves at the offensive-coordinator position.
Harbaugh is highly thought of in Baltimore and around the league, and multiple sources scoffed at the notion of him being let go in-season; the staff has no obvious replacements or potential head coaches in waiting, and there is not chaos in the locker room or players tanking or anything close to the kind of dysfunction that leads to those moves. However, there are also weekly indicators as to why it makes sense for both sides to move on.
Harbaugh has been immensely successful since being hired off of Reid's staff in Philadelphia, where he spent the bulk of his time as special teams coordinator. Harbaugh is 98-71 in his 11 NFL seasons, a sterling .580 winning percentage. He is also 10-5 in the postseason, including five-straight trips to the playoffs to begin his Ravens tenure. That record is even more impressive when considering only two of those playoffs games were at home, and never beyond the divisional round.
Harbaugh would be a natural fit in Cleveland, the only team currently committed to a 2019 coaching search, as an Ohio native who grew up a Browns fan and played at Miami of Ohio (it's worth noting when Reid left the Eagles he hired John Dorsey, current Browns GM, as his GM in Kansas City). In recent years several NFL owners and college athletic directors have done their due diligence on Harbaugh, with the perception that his time in Baltimore might be waning. He will be in high demand whenever that comes to pass.
He is in no threat of any imminent firing and Bisciotti isn't contemplating immediate changes. But Harbaugh will not be doing any more one-year extensions and both sides are becoming increasingly aware that a "mutual parting of the ways," is in store for 2019. Harbaugh will be a tremendously hot coaching candidate in the NFL and NCAA. Cleveland and Green Bay are ones to watch.