When he could've snarled about the calls and plays not made, Jim Harbaugh instead spoke quietly and took the graceful long view Sunday evening.

Was that a peaceful omen for the months ahead, which almost certainly will include talks between the coach and 49ers ownership about a long-term extension?

Or was Harbaugh only experiencing a brief moment of somber calm after the loss to Seattle in the NFC Championship game . . . and before a potentially very sticky offseason of negotiations for him, Colin Kaepernick and several other 49ers headliners?

We shall see. All hell could plausibly break loose ASAP, of course, but Harbaugh's tone Sunday did not immediately ring alarm bells about his longevity as 49ers coach.

In fact, Harbaugh suggested that the 49ers' frenetic NFC Championship game loss to Seattle was not the end of the world, but part of a strong, proud continuum.

"It's great competition," Harbaugh said at the podium minutes after the final gun in Seattle. "Not many people get to be in this arena, and I'm proud of our guys for the fight that they showed today and all season . . .

"They truly believed it -- just one drive, one touchdown drive, and we move on. That's what our guys believed would happen. We came up short."

There's little question that Harbaugh, who has two seasons remaining on his five-year, $25 million deal, is interested in a significant raise from the 49ers.


Advertisement

Harbaugh's camp and CEO Jed York had preliminary extension talks last offseason, but those were tabled when both sides realized they weren't close to a deal.

Harbaugh, the first coach to lead a team to conference championship games in his first three seasons, is currently not among the top-10 highest-paid coaches in the league, and he's third in the NFC West behind St. Louis' Jeff Fisher and Seattle's Pete Carroll.

Multiple sources say that Harbaugh and his agent suggested he should be lifted near or above the current No. 1 salary spot (something close to $8 million a year) in any possible new deal.

And now? As recently as last month, when Harbaugh's name emerged as a potential candidate at the University of Texas, York said he planned to talk more seriously with Harbaugh about a new deal this offseason.

"We'll sit down at the end of the season and talk about all this," York said then.

"And I hope he has the utmost leverage when we do that . . . meaning after we win a Super Bowl."

But for York -- sticking by the philosophy of his uncle Eddie DeBartolo -- there is not much negotiating leverage for a coach who almost beat Seattle.

So . . . can Harbaugh and York find a middle ground? If the two sides have the right attitudes going into this, yes.

The 49ers cannot find a better coach for them, whatever the price; and Harbaugh cannot be in a better place to go after that elusive Lombardi Trophy.

Will this marriage last forever? No, that's just not Harbaugh's history -- he can wear thin, and both sides know this.

But to make him happy for the next few years, York probably will have to give Harbaugh a raise at least to the $6.5 million range with clauses that would jump it to $8 million if he wins a Super Bowl.

And to keep this 49ers ride going, Harbaugh probably has to accept that he'll make top dollar only if he wins the Super Bowl, and not before then.

Or Harbaugh could decline any moderate extension offer and decide to roll the dice on 2014. That would up the stakes and the tension and the possibility that he's a short-timer with the 49ers . . . and maybe looking to go elsewhere in 2015.

Some of this is tied into Kaepernick's future, too, since Harbaugh picked and developed the quarterback and since Kaepernick is eligible for a long-term extension himself.

Kaepernick, earned less than $1 million this season and has another year to go on his rookie deal, but the 49ers can protect against a massive future salary cap hit if they work out a long-term deal now.

Baltimore's Joe Flacco, in a similar spot last season, won the Super Bowl and signed a new deal worth an average of $20.1 million per season.

But Kaepernick did not have a great individual performance in 2013, did not get to or win the Super Bowl, and has failed to hit passes at the end of the 49ers' last two playoff losses.

So I can't see Kaepernick getting anything close to top-10 QB money, not with the 49ers needing to save dollars to try to re-sign Anquan Boldin and negotiate long-term deals with Mike Iupati and Michael Crabtree, among others.

If Kaepernick is willing to compromise, he could fairly seek something near Alex Smith's $8 million-plus annual average -- right in the middle of the NFL starting QB salary spectrum.

Kaepernick would have had big leverage if he had completed that last pass to Crabtree on Sunday, and then won the Super Bowl. Harbaugh would have had mega-leverage, then, too.

But the 49ers lost, and now it's up to both men to either cut the best compromise deal out there . . . or hold off, and bet it all on 2014.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.