On Friday morning at Winter Park, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman is scheduled to meet with local reporters to discuss the team’s preparations for next week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis. But inevitably, the discussion will turn toward the Percy Harvin trade rumors that surfaced in a big way this past week.
As speculation spreads that the Vikings will spend some time in Indy casting Harvin-baited hooks into the NFL waters with supreme interest in what they might reel back in, Spielman will be asked to comment on all that’s being hypothesized.
Well, we’ll save you the suspense. When the questions are asked – and we’re setting the over-under on Harvin inquiries at 4.5 – Spielman will suddenly seem like his top receiver catching a bubble screen. Darting this way, dodging that way, impossible to corral. He’ll almost certainly reiterate that Harvin is a good football player – blue chip in fact – while vaguely issuing a reminder that the Vikings don’t like to get rid of really good football players.
But will that mean Harvin is certain to be back in purple in 2013? Absolutely not.
Fact of the matter is, from a business standpoint, it does Spielman no good to publicly say anything of substance about Harvin’s future with the team. Not if he has at least some interest in gaging the trade market. Which means that the Harvin story will be wrapped in rumor and innuendo for at least the next few weeks and possibly longer. Which, in turn, means the debates will intensify between those who think Harvin is an irreplaceable playmaker who needs to be kept long-term versus those who think the Vikings should pull the trigger on a trade while the value of doing so may be at its highest.
To help you better understand all the moving parts of this saga, we’re providing legitimate arguments from both sides. Keep Percy? Trade Percy? Feel free to continue this discussion, as you see fit, at your office or local watering hole.
Keep Percy: Here’s your obligatory reminder that through eight games last season, Harvin was the NFL leader in catches with 60. At the season’s midpoint he was on pace for 120 catches and 1,334 receiving yards. For a while, his presence alone made Christian Ponder seem like a guaranteed long-term answer at quarterback. Remember after Week 7 when Ponder ranked near the top of the NFL in completion percentage? Simply because he could flick the ball to Harvin within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage then let number 12 do the rest? Yep, Harvin’s an absolute beast. He’s as slick and sleek as a waxed Porsche while also somehow providing the power of a Humvee.
Trade Percy: Nobody is disputing Harvin’s playmaking ability. The adjectives Sharpied onto his scouting report include explosive, versatile, swift and strong. But those are quickly followed by these: mercurial, moody, temperamental. When Percy’s happy, he’s one of the Vikings’ most lovable stars. When he’s not happy, break open the Advil cabinet. Don’t forget how bizarre it was last summer when Harvin expressed significant unhappiness during the team’s mini-camp, requested a trade but then failed to elaborate publicly on what the heck was bothering him. What’s that all about?
Keep Percy: Forget last summer. That episode settled down within 72 hours. What about last fall and that remarkable 5-2 start the Vikings got off to? Not possible without Harvin’s contributions. We talk a lot about his skills as a receiver. But remember in Week 4 when he also returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a score in Detroit, a TD that wound up being the difference in a 20-13 win? And what about the rushing TD he had a week later against Tennessee, which was followed a few quarters later by a mind-bending display of elusiveness on his way to a second score? Watch this again. Still need reasons to keep Percy?
Trade Percy: That 5-2 start you referenced? Well, guess what. The Vikings finished the season 5-2 as well. And that seven-game closing stretch came without Harvin. He was out with a sprained ankle that ended his season. And after the Vikings put Harvin on injured reserve and he vanished from the facility, the Vikings won their final four regular season games. Not saying, just saying. Sure didn’t seem like Harvin’s presence was a prerequisite for success.
Keep Percy: Look, playmakers like this don’t grow on trees. The Vikings were fortunate that some of Harvin’s character issues made him slide down the draft board in 2009. It was a calculates risk when they picked him. And to take that for granted now would be reckless. Especially for a team that needs so much help at receiver. It’s not like they’re overflowing with depth at that position. Plus, now seems to be the right time to issue a reminder that Harvin doesn’t turn 25 until May 28. That youth translates into big-time upside.
Trade Percy: Is now also the right time to bring up Jarius Wright? The rookie sure seemed to show rapid signs of growth down the stretch. And in the Vikings’ biggest game of the season, that playoff-clinching win over Green Bay in Week 17, Wright had three grabs, 90 yards and a TD. He may not be quite as explosive or dynamic as Harvin. But he can serve a similar role and doesn’t seem to carry half the baggage. Wright was inactive for the first nine games last season yet never seemed to fuss or mope. That’s an underrated asset.
Keep Percy: Trading one of your established stars is dangerous beyond all belief. What do the Vikings think they can get in return for Harvin? That, after all, will be a big piece to this trade puzzle. Logic may infer that a player of Harvin’s caliber should allow the Vikings to demand at least one first-round pick and some change in a deal. But the way NFL business logistics are, it won’t make much sense for any team to surrender a first-round pick for a guy who’s only signed through next season and then will need to be re-signed at a very big cost. So if the Vikings are only looking at getting a second- or third-rounder and a throw-in pick or two in the later rounds, is that really enough to give up a guy who’s probably your second best player behind Adrian Peterson?
Trade Percy: Led us right into our next point. That eye-popping salary Harvin will demand will be a HUGE piece to this puzzle. And inside NFL circles, there’s chatter that Harvin is not just expecting a long-term extension, he’s expecting to be PAAAIIID. You can thank Twin Cities-native Larry Fitzgerald for exploding market on receivers. The contract extension Fitzgerald signed with Arizona, an eight-year deal worth up to $120 million, changed the game. Let us give you some numbers of receiver contracts subsequently signed over the past two offseasons. Vincent Jackson: five years, $55 million. Santonio Holmes: five years, $50 million. Pierre Garcon: five years, $42.5 million. Sidney Rice: five years, $41 million. Marques Colston: five years, $40 million. Those are exorbitant sums. And before you make a long-term investment like that, you best be sure you’re going to be able to manage Harvin’s mood swings and volatility while also hoping his style of play doesn’t turn him into a major durability risk.
Keep Percy: Harvin is better than Santonio Holmes, better than Garcon, better than Rice. He would be worth every bit of a contract that pays him $8-, $9-, maybe $10 million per year. Plus, a shrewd front office will structure the deal so that it’s heavy on incentives to minimize their risks in the event that Harvin either gets injured or has a meltdown.
Trade Percy: If you’re talking $8- or $9 million per year, by all means, start working out a deal. But we’ll say it again. Harvin believes he’s worth more than that. Much more than that. And he might be commanding a deal in the ballpark of Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson, whose extension with Detroit was seven years and $132 million. That, my friend, is just ludicrous cash to be throwing around. Percy Harvin is a great football player. But he’s not on the level of Fitzy or Megatron. You know most of those names we mentioned a minute ago? Jackson, Holmes, Rice, Colston. Know what they have on their resume that Harvin doesn’t? A 1,000-yard receiving season. So how can a guy who has never surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in a season command in excess of $12 million per year? That’s where this could get extra dicey for Spielman. There’s also a lingering fear that if Harvin already has prima donna tendencies, giving him such a huge payday might create an egocentric monster that can’t be tamed.
Keep Percy: Tired of hearing all these concerns about Harvin’s moods. Are they really that big of a deal? Within the locker room, he isn’t considered a cancer. He hasn’t really been a divisive force amongst teammates. Most of those guys admire how hard he works, how hard he plays and how dynamic he is. If anything, he’s simply a young kid who can be irritable and cause headaches for the coaching staff and front office. This is the NFL. And if any franchise has the kind of even-keeled and patient head coach to deal with such volatility, it’s the Vikings with Leslie Frazier. Frazier has both the tolerance and the desire to continue molding Harvin. And Harvin has said in the past that he loves playing for Frazier, too. So what if that comes with an occasional immature outburst now and again?
Trade Percy: Again, there is absolutely nothing to say Frazier is fed up with Harvin beyond a point of no return right now. He continues to compliment Harvin and has gone on record to say he wants him as part of this football team. But the biggest question here may not be whether the Vikings want Harvin around but whether Harvin wants to be around the Vikings. And if he has checked out and decided that he wants a fresh start in a new place, sometimes there’s no turning back. And for a team looking to continue its impressive resurgence by building around selfless, low-maintenance, no-drama guys, perhaps now’s the perfect time to cut the cord. Get what you can now before the drama builds and becomes a major distraction.
Keep Percy: We’ll leave you with this.
Trade Percy: And we’ll leave you with this.