Jim Harbaugh is all but penciled in as the San Diego Chargers' starting quarterback for opening day.
The deal would likely keep troubled second-year pro Ryan Leaf on the bench, where he'd be expected to learn from Harbaugh, who's entering his 13th season.
New Chargers coach Mike Riley said there was always the chance Leaf would win the job in training camp, but added: "My guess is that Jim is our starting quarterback on opening day."
The Chargers hope to have the agreement finalized in time for a Thursday news conference.
"We shook hands on it," general manager Bobby Beathard said from the NFL meetings in Phoenix. "Nothing's official until it's all turned into the league, and anything can happen. But we have confidence it will work out."
Beathard said it's his understanding that the Lions have agreed to send Mitchell to Baltimore, which would then allow the Ravens to deal Harbaugh to San Diego.
Harbaugh reportedly has said that he's willing to take a significant cut in his $3.25 million salary for 1999 in order to play in San Diego. Beathard wouldn't comment on salary figures, but the Chargers reportedly are interested in bringing in Harbaugh for about $2 million.
The Chargers agreed to send Baltimore their fifth-round pick in 2000, or a fourth-round pick if Harbaugh plays 50 percent of the time and the Chargers win at least nine games in 1999. The latter scenario would require a dramatic improvement for the Chargers, who've won only nine games combined the last two seasons.
| Jim Harbaugh should be starting for the Chargers come August. (AP)|
Obtaining a veteran quarterback has been the Chargers' No. 1 priority since finishing 5-11 in 1998. Most of the Chargers' problems stemmed from poor play by Leaf and Craig Whelihan, who combined to throw 34 interceptions and just 10 touchdown passes.
Leaf was the scond pick in the 1998 draft and received an $11.25 million signing bonus as part of a $31.25 million contract. He was benched after nine starts because of his ineffective play and immature behavior off the field.
"We're getting Jim Harbaugh because we think this gives us a chance to give the defense help to win some games," Beathard said. "This is a great situation for Jim and I think the players will be excited."
San Diego's defense allowed the fewest yards in the NFL, both overall and against the run, but was constantly put in bad position by turnovers. All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau publicly called for the Chargers to get a veteran in the offseason.
"This could be the start of a new identity for San Diego," said Riley, who also was at the owners meetings. "I'm excited about this. I think it's a big accomplishment in the offseason to get Jim coming our way."
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