BRONCOS

Report: Broncos could have competition for Jim Harbaugh

Jan 3, 2023, 2:26 PM | Updated: 2:38 pm

Jim Harbaugh appears to be in the Broncos’ sights as they begin their coaching search. But it is far from a fait accompli that the Broncos land the Michigan head coach.

Tuesday, WJZY-TV, the Fox affiliate in Charlotte, reported that Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has reached out to the Harbaugh to gauge his potential interest in the head-coaching job there.

It was a “conversation” and not an interview, the station reported.

The Associated Press had a similar report later Tuesday.

One day earlier, The Athletic reported that if Harbaugh received an NFL offer, it was a “done deal” that he would return to the league after eight seasons away from it.

Carolina fired Matt Rhule earlier this season after a 1-4 start to is third season. Rhule subsequently returned to college football, taking the head-coaching reins at Nebraska. Carolina improved under interim head coach Steve Wilks. They went 5-6 — including a 24-10 thumping of the Broncos — before bowing out of playoff contention with a loss at Tampa Bay last Sunday.

The entrance of the Panthers into the chat could change the dynamic of a Harbaugh pursuit.

First, Carolina sits in a division far less daunting than the Broncos’ AFC West home.  The Broncos have four games a year against teams led by Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Meanwhile, Carolina rests in the NFC South. They could have three division foes in a state of quarterback flux if Tom Brady leaves the Buccaneers this offseason, as many expect.

Then there is the financial factor. Money is no object for the Walton-Penner group — the most cash-rich in the NFL. But Tepper is no slouch in that department. His $18.5 billion net worth is the second-highest of any NFL owner.

Tepper bought the Panthers in 2018 — the most recent purchase of a majority stake in an NFL team prior to the Walton-Penner group’s acquisition of the Broncos last August.

He demonstrated in 2020 that he would spare no expense on hiring a head coach, as he gave Rhule a 7-year, $62-million contract. But even that isn’t an an issue, as the offset language means that most of the $34 million still owed to Rhule will be wiped off the books by his Nebraska salary.

So, the Panthers don’t even have to operate with the contract of their ex-head coach on the books.

Harbaugh even spent part of his final season as a player on Carolina’s roster, although he never took a snap for them. Harbaugh also played three seasons for the Indianapolis Colts, the NFL’s other team with an interim head coach. Indianapolis is expected to make a play for Harbaugh, too.

The Broncos’ financial heft towers over the rest of the NFL. But the state of the roster and their place in the league could have an impact on the choice Harbaugh makes.

Buckle up. This could be a fascinating process.

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