Michigan's massive Jim Harbaugh extension talks come with an obvious caveat

The Jim Harbaugh contract extension talks are back underway again, but will he stay at Michigan?

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

For the third year in a row, the Michigan Wolverines are Big Ten Champions and playing in a national semifinal. Although they are 0-2 in their two previous College Football Playoff appearances, a win over Alabama in the Rose Bowl could do wonders for their growing brand, as well as Jim Harbaugh's bank account. The soon-to-be 60-year-old is massively underpaid, but also a highly-coveted coach.

Despite being in the midst of an evolving scandal, talks about Michigan extending Harbaugh have been very touch-and-go this season. No matter what he knew or didn't regarding Conner Stalions and company's sign-stealing ways, Harbaugh is a damn good football coach, and should be paid like one. The question is if the University of Michigan will pony up the necessary cash to get him to stay.

Richard Johnson of Sports Illustrated reported that "Michigan is working on a contract extension for Jim Harbaugh worth $11 million per year, five years. The main hurdle remaining is a commitment in writing from Harbaugh that he will not pursue an NFL job this cycle." Harbaugh and cooperation are mostly mutually exclusive entities. However, there are teams with NFL openings who could want him.

He last played for the Carolina Panthers and first got into coaching when the Las Vegas Raiders were in Oakland. The team that drafted Harbaugh out of Michigan in the Chicago Bears could open up, too.

Keep in mind that Harbaugh played flirt with the Minnesota Vikings during the second National Signing Day two hiring cycles ago. The Vikings job ultimately went to Kevin O'Connell over Harbaugh.

Should Harbaugh wear the golden handcuffs, or see what the NFL could possibly offer him in 2024?

Jim Harbaugh Michigan contract extension talks offer golden handcuffs

If Harbaugh were to ever go back to the NFL, this is the offseason cycle to do it. He turns 60 right before Christmas. While Harbaugh is every bit as youthful as his former Pac-10/NFC West adversary Pete Carroll is a little more than a decade older than him, coaching in the NFL is a young man's game. If he does not leave for an NFL team this offseason, Harbaugh could retire coaching at his alma mater.

Although he has personal ties to the openings in Charlotte and Las Vegas, as well as a potential one in Chicago, Michigan is the best of those four jobs. He could inherit Bryce Young in Carolina or Justin Fields in Chicago, but neither former first-round pick are lighting the world on fire offensively for their horrifically bad teams. The Raiders need a new quarterback like Carolina is in need of a new owner.

Here is how I see it shaking out. If Michigan wins its next two games to become national champions, Harbaugh could turn pro having accomplished what he set out to do in the first place: Make his alma mater champions. That would be right around the time Black Monday is occurring on the NFL side of things. If Michigan loses to Alabama, he may punt on the college game all together and go to the NFL.

However, if Michigan beats Alabama, but then loses to either Texas or Washington in Houston for the national title, Harbaugh puts pen to paper immediately and closes out his coaching career at his alma mater. There will be "unfinished business" to take care, even though taking care of business in January has never been this Michigan group's forte, for whatever it's worth. He won't leave them then.

In my honest opinion, Harbaugh has all the leverage here. If the NCAA levies heavy sanctions on the Michigan program because of the sign-stealing scandal, Harbaugh may just bolt for the NFL like Carroll did after USC got into hot water roughly 15 years ago. To me, this is why Harbaugh won't sign a contract with a clause in it saying he will not pursue an NFL job this cycle. A "dream job" may open up.

What I would do if I were Michigan is put a heavy buyout clause in Harbaugh's proposed new deal, so that if he were to leave his alma mater for an NFL gig, he would be penalized for it. This is a tricky situation to navigate, but the only thing Harbaugh cares about right now is beating Alabama in the Rose Bowl. Everything else is small potatoes at this point. The rest will take care of itself in due time.

The only thing I know is David Tepper would be able to outbid Michigan for Harbaugh if he wanted to...

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