Tarell Brown 49ersIt’s been a tough start to training camp for Tarell Brown, who will lose out on roughly 68% of his potential earnings in 2013 because he didn’t practice with the team in California during the offseason. Instead of earning $2.925M, Brown will only make $925K this year after overlooking an extremely important workout clause in his contract. We already know Brown fired his agent Brian Overstreet after the contract disaster came to light. Now Jim Harbaugh is telling the media he is confident the 49ers and Brown will figure out a way to fix this:

“Just think there’s a solution there,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know that it’s any one particular thing, but you explore all those options and find the solution. It’s there, we just got to do some work and get it done. We’re motivated to do that because he deserves it, he’s earned it. I don’t want to see him playing for the minimum when he’s a starting, top-line player.”

The common belief is the solution will come in the form of a contract extension, and it’s really the only way to solve the problem. If the 49ers concluded Brown didn’t know about the escalator clause and awarded him the $2M despite missing the workouts, it could set a dangerous precedent for players upholding contractual obligations in the future. Should the 49ers decide to tell Brown “tough luck,” they could have a disgruntled and distracted player on their hands in 2013.

But with free agency looming for the cornerback in March of 2014, an extension makes sense for both sides.

For Brown, an extension will not only recoup the $2M he lost, but also match his salary with his performance: Brown scored a +10.5 overall on Pro Football Focus, making him the 13th best cornerback in 2012. His coverage score of +12.8 made him the fourth best cover corner in the league behind Richard Sherman, Casey Hayward and Charles Tillman. He was the best corner on the 49ers by a long shot: the second best was Chris Culliver, who scored +5.7, falling in at 29th overall. No 49ers show up on the list again until 46th, when Carlos Rogers makes an appearance. Needless to say, $925K doesn’t come close to honoring Brown’s work on the field.

The 49ers have been getting a steal in Brown since taking him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, but they won’t be so lucky if they let him escape to free agency at the end of the season. Brown is due for a big raise, and if you look at the paydays former-49ers have been getting upon departure, it’s unlikely the team will be able to compete in the free agent market. The 49ers already have questions at cornerback, even with a roster full of names at the position. If Brown has another season like he did in 2012 (and 2011 for that matter, when his statistics were even better), they wouldn’t have to worry about being outbid. They would have already locked in an extremely talented player at a very important position.

San Francisco’s front office has been heralded as one of the most cost-effective in the league, so breaking the bank for Brown is rather unlikely. They’ve proven, in letting players like Dashon Goldson walk, that they won’t overpay in competitive free agent markets. What Trent Baalke and Paraag Marathe have done well, however, is extend the guys they value before teams like Tampa Bay have a shot to woo them. This is a situation where, if the 49ers want to keep Brown. they have some leverage.

The question is whether Harbaugh’s comments regarding Brown’s contract hold actual weight or not. Brown fired his agent on Friday and is now enduring the five-day waiting period before he can hire a new one. Afterwards the negotiations can begin, and it would behoove both the 49ers and Brown to get a deal done.