Contract extension gives Ravens coach John Harbaugh breathing room

A new deal for John Harbaugh, who has dealt with several injuries to his roster this summer, should quiet speculation that his job is in jeopardy. Patrick McDermott/USA TODAY Sports

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens did something they've rarely done in team history: They announced a contract extension for coach John Harbaugh on Monday.

Why would the Ravens do so this time? This is likely a public vote of confidence to a head coach who has missed the playoffs for three of the past four seasons.

While some will suggest nothing is guaranteed -- Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti fired Brian Billick one year after giving him a four-year deal -- this reported one-year extension suggests Harbaugh is getting some breathing room during what has already been a trying year (and the regular season hasn't even started yet).

Since the end of last season, Harbaugh has watched three players retire: No. 1 receiver Steve Smith Sr., leading tackler Zach Orr and potential starting center John Urschel. He has lost eight players to season-ending injuries over the past three months, including leading receiver Dennis Pitta, promising running back Kenneth Dixon and starting left guard Alex Lewis. He's been without the team's past three draft picks (wide receiver Breshad Perriman, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey) for a large chunk of the summer.

If that wasn't enough, Harbaugh hasn't had his starting quarterback during training camp and the entire preseason because of a back injury. Joe Flacco's first full-team practice this summer might come a week before the season opener in Cincinnati.

This isn't an ideal situation for any coach, especially one who originally was entering his contract year in 2018. That's why the extension comes across as a timely move, given the increasing questions of urgency to the players and Harbaugh. There has been a growing perception that Harbaugh was on the hot seat after going 31-33 since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

But Bisciotti said in the past that he wanted his franchise to model the Steelers, and no team has had more stability at head coach than Pittsburgh. The Steelers stuck with Bill Cowher when he went three straight years without a playoff appearance, and they stood by Mike Tomlin when he failed to make the playoffs in three of five seasons after winning the Super Bowl.

The other factor is who the alternative would be if the Ravens make a change. Is there someone out there who would be an improvement over Harbaugh?

Bisciotti supported Harbaugh in a recent radio interview, saying, he's "lucky to have a leader like him." Harbaugh is still considered a top-10 coach in this league. He has more playoff wins than Mike McCarthy and Pete Carroll. He has a better career winning percentage than Andy Reid and Ron Rivera.

While Harbaugh has to share some of the blame for the Ravens' recent failures, he shouldn't shoulder all of it. The front office has played a large role, as well. In 2013, the Ravens went 8-8 because they didn't properly address the loss of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin. In 2015, Baltimore struggled to go 5-11 because there was no adequate replacement for Flacco.

Last year, the Ravens missed out on the playoffs after not being able to stop Ben Roethlisberger on one fourth-quarter drive. Can Baltimore go head-to-head with Pittsburgh for the AFC North once again this year?

With their amount of injuries, the Ravens are going to need a strong coaching effort to do so. And, with this contract extension, Bisciotti believes Harbaugh is the right coach to do it.