Percy Harvin conducted his introductory news conference with the Vikings in April 2009. He was polite and charming that day, and more important, he seemed remorseful about a failed drug test that caused him to tumble down the draft board into the Vikings’ arms at No. 22.
Harvin made a favorable first impression with his candor and humility. He looked into a wall of cameras and told everyone that he’s “not a phony person.” He didn’t sound like the same guy depicted as a malcontent and troublemaker at Florida.
Not sure what to make of Harvin, I called a writer who covered him in college for an unvarnished opinion. He paused for a few seconds.
“With Percy,” he said, “it’s always something.”
Those words came rushing back Monday with news that the Vikings traded Harvin to Seattle for several draft picks, including a first-rounder (No. 25 overall) in the upcoming draft. This is one of those polarizing trades that shakes the NFL — a team ridding itself of an elite talent and popular player in the prime of his career.
Some Vikings fans will love the move, some will hate it. But this outcome seemed inevitable the moment Harvin disappeared from Winter Park this season. As his teammates came together for a common purpose to make the playoffs, Harvin retreated to Florida, unhappy with something or someone.
That was simply Harvin being Harvin. It’s always something with him, which is why the Vikings couldn’t risk giving him a top-dollar contract in line with the NFL’s best receivers. What if that didn’t make him happy, either?
This stare-down was never about talent. Harvin is one of the most physically gifted and unique players in the league. He’s breathtaking with the ball in his hands, a combination of running back and wide receiver who is not afraid to take on linebackers in open field. He’s exceptional as a kickoff returner, too. And he gives nothing but maximum effort on the field, which endeared him to fans and gained him respect around the league. That kind of talent and production won’t be easy to replace.
Some will blame the Vikings for not bending over backward to make the relationship work or for not tolerating a volatile player. Harvin is not the first player to act like a drama diva, of course. Maybe they could have done more, but we don’t know what happened or what was said in private conversations.
One recent report suggested the Vikings feared Harvin might hold out as long as possible if they didn’t meet his contract demands. Whatever the reason(s), the organization obviously felt the relationship was damaged beyond repair and that they are better off without Harvin, despite everything that he provides on the field.
In the end, Harvin just seemed like he didn’t want to be here anymore. He reportedly argued with Leslie Frazier, and there were rumors of his unhappiness over the team’s choice of quarterback. He didn’t even stick around as his team showed some life and fight in chasing a playoff berth.
Harvin put the Vikings in a tough spot because he’s an elite player who wanted to be paid accordingly, but his wild mood swings and petulant behavior made it impossible to trust him. He once threw a weight at former coach Brad Childress during an argument and even sparred with a player-friendly and mild-mannered coach in Frazier.
Harvin was a tough guy to read. He could be engaging and funny one day, grumpy and terse the next. The Vikings never really knew what to expect from him.
Harvin stunned everyone — even coaches and teammates — when he showed up for voluntary workouts last spring, vowing to take a leadership role. He texted Frazier when he arrived in town, to which his coach replied, “Is this the real Percy Harvin?”
Harvin requested a trade three weeks later and then pretended it didn’t happen 24 hours after that. Eventually, that act becomes tiresome and is detrimental to the culture that Frazier is trying to create.
Naturally, this move weakens the Vikings on the field, but we’ll reserve ultimate judgment until we see the team’s countermoves in free agency and the draft. General Manager Rick Spielman recouped a nice haul in return, considering the circumstances.
Harvin provided some thrilling moments and high-level production for four seasons. But he made life uncomfortable off the field and walked away from the team last season.
A trade like this is difficult, but maybe it’s best for everyone involved.