San Francisco 49ers: Chip Kelly

While I still think it would be a good idea for the San Francisco 49ers to trade running back LaMichael James to the Philadelphia Eagles, it won’t happen.

There's no room in Philly for a shifty running back. Chip Kelly -- who coached James at Oregon -- got his tailback Thursday when he traded for Darren Sproles from New Orleans. As for James, the 49ers can only hope he can become the Sproles-like weapon they envisioned when they spent a second-round pick on him in 2012.

James has made little impact on offense, but he did become a solid return man last season. If James doesn’t make something happen in a crowded backfield in 2014, his time in San Francisco could be limited.

In other 49ers' notes:

The Eagles signed cornerback Nolan Carroll. The 49ers had shown interest in him. The 49ers are reportedly visiting with Minnesota cornerback Chris Cook on Thursday. They still want to keep free-agent cornerback Tarell Brown.

Carolina released Steve Smith on Thursday. If the 49ers are interested -- here are some reasons they could be -- the time is now.

Second-year defensive lineman Quinton Dial switched from No. 71 to No. 92. He made the request weeks ago. It had nothing to do with the addition of offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, who wore No. 71 in Miami. If Martin wants to keep the number, though, it is available.
Jim HarbaughChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh has reached the NFC title game in each of his three seasons, so why would the 49ers look elsewhere?

Coach Jim Harbaugh's situation in San Francisco has been one of the most talked-about stories in the league in recent weeks.

If a resolution on his contract isn't reached, it will likely hover over the franchise all season and would be a major story next January, when Harbaugh could leave the team, although Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated this week he is happy with all aspects of his job and doesn’t see any way he will leave the team before the end of his contract. Still, getting the contract done would ease a lot of issues.

We all know the backdrop: Harbaugh has led the 49ers to the NFC title game in all three of his seasons as coach. He got them to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. He is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract that pays him $5 million per year. Harbaugh and the 49ers have been in discussion about a new deal for about a year, but are not close to an extension. Team owner Jed York recently told the Sacramento Bee he thinks contract talks will resume after the NFL draft in early May.

Things got interesting when the Cleveland Browns pursued a trade for Harbaugh. The 49ers were not interested, but that could change next year.

There have been rampant reports that Harbaugh has had trouble with some in the 49ers' front office, including general manager Trent Baalke. York, Harbaugh and Baalke have long downplayed the friction, indicating that they can coexist.

However, there is enough smoke here to think this situation go could south if a contract isn't agreed upon this year. Let's look at some issues that may be part of this story as it further develops:

The history: While it would be stunning to see the 49ers-Harbaugh marriage disintegrate after such a stellar start, similar breakups have happened before.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones
AP Photo/Ron HeflinJim Harbaugh would not be the first successful coach to leave during a team's prime. Jimmy Johnson left the Cowboys after winning two Super Bowls because of fighting with owner Jerry Jones.
After winning two straight Super Bowls, Jimmy Johnson famously left the Cowboys in 1994 after fighting with owner Jerry Jones. Following the 1998 season, Mike Holmgren shocked the NFL when he left quarterback Brett Favre and a Green Bay Packers team in its prime after a seven-year run that included a Super Bowl win. Holmgren left for more power and much more money in Seattle. In 2002, the Raiders traded coach Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay for a massive amount of draft picks. The Raiders were burned as Gruden led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win against Oakland in his first season. In 2007, the Chargers sided with general manager A.J. Smith in his feud with coach Marty Schottenheimer even though the Chargers went 14-2 the season before.

If Harbaugh leaves the 49ers, it wouldn't be the first time a coach and team split despite success.

The highest-paid coaches: Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated he is not unhappy with his pay, but the man is underpaid considering his massive NFL success. Nine of the 32 NFL coaches in 2013 made at least $7 million. Only five of them had won a Super Bowl.

I'd think it has to bother Harbaugh that Chip Kelly earned $6.5 million in his first NFL season and NFC West rival Jeff Fisher made $7 million in St. Louis. Coaches' salaries are at a premium and, by NFL standards, Harbaugh is underpaid.

The best coaches without power: He is hypercompetitive and likes to be in control. So, Harbaugh probably isn't always thrilled to defer personnel decisions to Baalke. But I don't sense Harbaugh wanting to be the general manager and making every decision as he said. He is a coach.

I don't see this as a deal-breaker.

There are plenty of great NFL coaches who don't have total power, including Harbaugh's brother, John, in Baltimore. There's also Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and Pete Carroll in Seattle. So, a lack of total power in the NFL really isn't a big deal anymore for coaches.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkWould Stanford coach David Shaw be a candidate to follow Jim Harbaugh again?
Where could Harbaugh land? Harbaugh's situation could cause teams to adjust their plans late in the season. I could see many owners prematurely firing a coach to get a shot at Harbaugh if he goes into January unsigned.

But right now, the list of teams that may be making a change next year and may make sense for Harbaugh isn't very long.

Miami and Dallas would be among the biggest suitors. Miami tried to hire Harbaugh before he went to San Francisco. The team has deep pockets, a need for good public relations, and the Dolphins have a good young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Dallas has big bucks and Tony Romo. Harbaugh could like both places.

Other possibilities could include both New York teams and Atlanta (coaching Matt Ryan would surely be intriguing). A potential long shot could be Oakland. Harbaugh was an assistant in Oakland and he could stay in the Bay Area. But the Raiders have to find a quarterback and ownership would have to be willing to shell out financially to make it work. Plus, the 49ers would need to get a haul from the Raiders to trade him to their Bay Area rival.

If I had to give odds on the early favorite, I'd look toward Miami.

Who could replace Harbaugh? It's only logical to think that San Francisco ownership, in the back of its mind, is thinking post-Harbaugh just in case.

The chance of getting draft picks for a coach the 49ers can't come to an agreement with could interest the team next offseason. Also, the idea of front-office peace could be at the forefront as well, especially if things go haywire the rest of this year.

The first place the 49ers would likely look to replace Harbaugh is on the current staff. Because the team has been so successful, I could see the 49ers having interest in staying close to home. Offensive and defensive coordinators Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, respectively, would likely be on the 49ers' list. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is a favorite of the front office. He was a candidate when Harbaugh was hired and his players love him.

Here's another name the 49ers could look at -- David Shaw. He replaced Harbaugh at Stanford. I'm sure he wouldn't be afraid to do it again.

Shaw has been steadfast in his desire to stay at Stanford. But if he were ever to leave for the NFL, this would likely be an appealing situation. He and his family could stay in their house and he'd go to a near perfect NFL situation with a franchise quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.

There is plenty to unfold in this situation in the next several months. Harbaugh and the 49ers could end it all by coming to a contract extension. But as we have realized early this offseason, it's not that simple.
Weekend mail call:

Mark from Palm Harbor, Fla., wants to know if I think the 49ers should trade running back LaMichael James to the Eagles so he can reunite with his coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly.

Bill Williamson: I suggested James be dealt to the Eagles in October. I still believe it. James, a second-round pick in 2012, did make an impact as a returner in the second half of the season. But he didn't make much of an impact as a running back in 2013. With Marcus Lattimore expected to be healthy in 2014, I don't see James getting more offensive snaps. He has been known for making some cryptic tweets that have been perceived to be about his role. I'm sure Kelly would like to work with James again, but I doubt James would command much on the trade market. Still, I don't think dealing James would be the worst move the 49ers made.

Mark from Redondo Beach, Calif., wants to know if I think the 49ers should target a receiver or a cornerback in the first round.

BW: I believe the 49ers should consider receivers first. Now if the draft board falls so that it makes sense to take a cornerback first, that's fine. But the key to the 49ers' 2014 season is being better than Seattle. Getting better on offense and scoring more points against Seattle is paramount. That's why I think they should beef up on offense.

Brian from San Antonio wants to know why I ranked receiver Jon Baldwin as No. 59 out of 60 in my team rankings project.

BW: I just don't think Baldwin has a future with the 49ers. They were screaming for a young receiver to make a contribution and he couldn't get on the field. He had just three catches last season.
Here's a thought: The San Francisco 49ers should trade running back LaMichael James to the Philadelphia Eagles.

James would be reunited with his college coach, Chip Kelly. Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia has yet to get up to full speed. Perhaps inserting a former Duck such as James in the lineup would ignite it. Perhaps the Eagles would give the 49ers a valuable pick for James.

Right now, James isn’t giving the 49ers a lot of value. And it seems like he is frustrated. reported James posted a tweet saying he was unhappy being “insurance” and then he deleted it.

James didn’t play in the first three games because of a knee injury. He played last week in St. Louis. But he made no impact with three carries for zero yards. He is currently at the bottom of the running back rotation.

A second-round pick last year, James saw his role increase late last season. Many scouts think he can be a serious receiving weapon out of San Francisco's backfield.

But if the 49ers don’t trust James because of his blocking or other reasons, they should send him to a place that would likely pay to get him. Again, this is not a report or a rumor. I’m just suggesting an idea I think makes sense.

In other 49ers’ notes:

I know a lot of 49ers fans are unhappy that the team cut seventh-round pick B.J. Daniels. I wouldn’t be too upset. He is a total developmental player who the team clearly doesn’t think has value on the 53-man roster now. If he clears waivers later Wednesday, the 49ers likely will place him on the practice squad.

Newly signed linebacker Jermaine Cunningham has experience as a 3-4 outside linebacker with New England. He has played there on first and second down. He has some ability to set the edge. The 2010 second-round pick was cut when the Patriots set their 53-man roster in August. He was suspended late last season for using performance-enhancing drugs. He will provide depth for the 49ers.

Safety Donte Whitner expressed frustration with getting a $21,000 fine for a hit he made against the Rams. He is appealing the fine.