The most valuable asset in the NFL is having a franchise quarterback signed for a relative pittance. It's no accident that the Trade Value list I put together in August was littered with quarterbacks within the top 10. If Andrew Luck hit the free market this past offseason without being drafted, a quarterback-desperate team like the Browns or Jaguars would have given him $50 million in guaranteed money in a heartbeat, but the league's CBA restricts him to $22.1 million over four years. That savings (just under $28 million) is for the Colts to spend however they like — a reward for having an awful season at exactly the right time. Isn't football fun?
After I put together the midseason update to the Trade Value rankings I started to get the feeling like I was missing something. There is one other asset a team can hold that's actually remarkably similar to the cheap, talented young quarterback: a head coach. And when I thought about great head coaches, naturally, my mind turned to Jim Harbaugh.
The 49ers signed Jim Harbaugh away from Stanford for a pittance. His buyout figure hasn't been publicly reported, but if there was one, it likely wasn't more than a couple million bucks. San Francisco gave Harbaugh a five-year, $25 million deal to replace Mike Singletary and take over a franchise that had gone 46-82 since Steve Mariucci left town. Since then, with virtually the same roster Harbaugh inherited,1 the 49ers have gone 21-6-1. and made it within a premature whistle of making the Super Bowl. It's the best decision a franchise has made of their own volition (e.g., without having an obvious choice fall into their laps) in recent memory.