OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens and coach John Harbaugh have an agreement in principle on a long-term contract extension, which is the one coaching decision this offseason that makes the most sense.
This is a reward for turning a spiraling Ravens team into AFC North champions and giving a vision for what to expect from new franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson. This is a strong vote of confidence for the best coach in team history and for a leader who has the NFL’s best postseason track record over the past 11 years aside from Bill Belichick.
The biggest reason this was a no-brainer resolution comes in the form of a question: Whom would the Ravens replace him with?
Kliff Kingsbury? He went 35-40 in six years at Texas Tech -- which included two seasons with Patrick Mahomes as his starter -- before being dismissed in November.
Matt LaFleur? He was the playcaller for the NFL’s No. 25 offense and got shut out by the Ravens in October.
Bruce Arians? The 66-year-old has previously had health issues and retired a year ago, saying, "I wasn’t enjoying the game as much as I had in the past.”
While no one knows how any of these surprising hires will pan out, Harbaugh has proven to be as sure of a bet as there is in today’s coaching landscape. He ranks second with 10 playoff wins since 2008, behind Belichick. Harbaugh has led Baltimore to the playoffs seven times in the past 11 seasons and has had one losing record over that span. The other coaches who can boast that achievement are Belichick, Mike Tomlin and Pete Carroll.
Harbaugh is at a different level than these other candidates, which is why he presumably would have been at the top of the list for any team looking for a new head coach. He has a Super Bowl ring, 114 victories (including playoffs) and a reputation for getting the most out of his team despite injuries, the lack of game-changing playmakers and uneven quarterback play.
If a team had offered draft picks in a trade for Harbaugh, that would have been an intriguing proposition for Baltimore. But an argument can be made that Harbaugh has kept the Ravens in the playoff race at the end of the season nearly every year despite some disappointing drafts.
Under Harbaugh, Baltimore has repeatedly overcome missing on some high draft picks. Since 2009, the Ravens have drafted two players (linebacker C.J. Mosley and fullback Kyle Juszczyk) who made the Pro Bowl during their time in Baltimore. Over that time, Harbaugh led the Ravens to the playoffs six times, including winning the Super Bowl in 2012.
Harbaugh is coming off what arguably was his best season. He helped turn around the Ravens from wallowing at 4-5 at the bye to playing host to a postseason game, and he did so with a rookie quarterback. Jackson went 6-1 as a starter in the regular season because of an offensive system constructed by Harbaugh and his staff.
With Harbaugh, there is a confidence level Jackson can develop because of how the past two months played out. With a new coach, there’s more uncertainty as to whether Jackson’s unique skill set will be maximized.
NFL history has shown an extended run of success comes when teams have cornerstones in place at head coach and quarterback. The Ravens are hoping they have their franchise quarterback in Jackson. But Baltimore already knows the commodity it has in Harbaugh, which is why a recommitment to him is the best move the Ravens will make this offseason.