Technically speaking, Percy Harvin’s career as a Minnesota Viking came to an end on a dreary Sunday afternoon last November in Seattle. It was there, during a 30-20 Vikings loss, that Harvin first directed an explosive sideline tirade at head coach Leslie Frazier, then aggravated a hamstring injury and finally suffered a severe ankle sprain on a routine third-quarter run.
As fate would have it, those would be Harvin’s final moments in his final game with the team.
What started as an extraordinary season for the dynamic receiver took an unexpected turn that day with Harvin’s nerves fraying, his ankle buckling and his overall frustration working toward a point of no return.
Four-and-a-half weeks later, when the explosive receiver was sent to injured reserve, that essentially became his layover on a permanent trip out of town. In a blockbuster deal agreed to Monday, the Vikings dealt Harvin to the Seahawks in exchange for a collection of draft picks.
When the trade is finalized, the Vikings will receive first- and seventh-round selections for this year’s draft plus a third-round pick in 2014. And now Harvin’s still promising career will get a major reset. Back in Seattle.
Officially, the trade cannot be rubber-stamped until 3 p.m. Tuesday when the NFL’s new league year begins and the free agent market opens. Until then, Vikings officials won’t offer public explanation for pulling the trigger. But Monday’s development put a definitive end to an often extraordinary, sometimes tumultuous union.
It also opened a canyon on the Vikings’ depth chart at receiver. With Harvin traded, Michael Jenkins released last week and Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashodu about to hit free agency, the Vikings now have only two receivers under contract that have caught a pass in an NFL game: Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton.
Still, with approximately $17 million of room under the salary cap, the organization is in position, if General Manager Rick Spielman so desires, to enter a high-priced auction for either Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings, the two premier free agent receivers who will hit the open market Tuesday.
‘Things happened very quickly’
A Harvin trade out of Minnesota had been rumored around the league for weeks. And while Spielman repeatedly asserted he had “no intent” to trade Harvin, the Vikings found themselves wowed by the compensation Seattle brought. As one league source said of Monday’s trade, “Things happened very quickly.”
To be clear, the Vikings hadn’t been entirely desperate to rid themselves of Harvin. Through all of the swings, Frazier had remained one of the receiver’s biggest allies. As patient a head coach as there is in the NFL, Frazier expressed hopes that Harvin would be part of the organization well into the future. It’s a sentiment Frazier said he relayed to the receiver during his January exit physical.
Spielman also proclaimed shortly after last season ended that he had “no issues with Percy Harvin.”
“Everybody sees what Percy puts on the field,” Spielman said. “He plays the game as hard or harder than anyone else in the NFL.”
The league source said the Vikings had few worries that they would be able to meet Harvin’s demands for a contract extension. That, it turns out, was a minimal factor in executing the trade.
Instead, somewhere along the lines a strained relationship became fractured. When Harvin’s ankle troubles persisted and he was put on IR in Week 14, he quickly disappeared from the team’s facility and was nowhere to be found during the team’s four-win blitz into the playoffs.
That was an obvious sign of the receiver’s displeasure. And Harvin had made it known he wanted to move on.
So in addition to the trade package Seattle offered, the Vikings were also running out of patience with constantly trying to keep Harvin happy.
Ultimately, it was decided a divorce would be best to move the organization forward.
Initial news of the Harvin trade rattled not only a large contingent of Vikings fans, many still scarred by the franchise’s 2004 trade of Randy Moss to Oakland, but also league MVP Adrian Peterson, who took to Twitter to vent.
Wrote Peterson: “The best all around player I ever seen or you’ll ever see! Goes to Seattle! I feel like I just got kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!”
Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams seemed similarly bummed.
“When you look at it on the surface, you say to yourself ‘Why in the world would we do this?’ It’s a situation where you never want to be going backwards or feel like you are. I guess we’ll see what we get in the draft or maybe even free agency. But that’s a crapshoot when you’re trying to make up for a guy as proven as Percy.”
At his best, Harvin was a tough and versatile playmaker, capable of breaking games open on offense and special teams. Through the first eight games of 2012, he was on pace for a 120-catch, 1,304-yard receiving season while doubling as a dangerous kick returner. It was no wonder he drew widespread raves as a potential MVP candidate.
But at times, Harvin proved hot-tempered and hard to console, evidenced by that in-full-view blowup at Frazier in Seattle.
Such outbursts never shocked the Vikings, who knew they took a gamble drafting Harvin 22nd overall in 2009. Said one team source of that decision: “Obviously, there were concerns then. If anyone tells you differently, they’re lying. With Percy Harvin, there will always be bumps in the road. Always. But at the end of the day, we all felt like it was manageable and everybody signed off on it. ... When Percy’s between the lines, he’s as tough as they come and his skill set is phenomenal for the stuff we’d ask him to do.”
In four seasons, Harvin delivered, totaling 280 catches, 3,302 yards and 20 receiving touchdowns. He also added 683 rushing yards and four more scores and delivered five touchdowns as a kick returner.
With his exit now arranged, the Vikings will have to restock their receiving corps first through free agency while also figuring to reach into an April draft grab bag loaded with talent.
Still, it’s unknown just how long it will take to measure the loss of one of the franchise’s most explosive players.