Souhan: Volatile Harvin still brings more reward than risk

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 13, 2013 - 12:57 AM
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Percy Harvin.

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Maybe, as Percy Harvin's status with the Vikings becomes a subject of national debate, they've decided they can't unburn this bridge.

Maybe he used a word in his confrontation with coach Leslie Frazier that would have been bleeped out of a Tarantino flick. Maybe he used a baseball broadcast without the express written consent of the commissioner, or tore the tag off a mattress, or tried to buy beer on Sunday.

Maybe the Vikings find him irredeemable, but when we hear that the team might trade its second-best player for something like a second-round draft pick, we have to remember what league we're talking about.

This is the NFL, and what we know for sure about Harvin is that he never has been indicted on double murder charges, doesn't get fat before realizing he needs NFL paychecks to pay off past bar bills, never plays at half-speed and has yet to speak out against the possibility of a gay teammate.

The Super Bowl featured players for whom the same can't be said. The Baltimore Ravens won the title while relying on Ray Lewis and Bryant McKinnie, beating a 49ers team that employs Randy Moss and homophobe cornerback Chris Culliver.

If those teams can win with those personalities, the Vikings can afford to gamble on a 24-year-old player at a position of great need who three months ago was considered one of the most valuable players in the league.

Because Harvin has been silent for months, the Vikings have spoken about him in the way conspiracy theorists speak of the Yeti. They're pretty sure he exists, but aren't sure how to prove it. Clouds of mystery have obscured the simplest way to think about the Vikings' best receiver.

He's exceptional, young, relatively affordable and almost impossible to replace, and his return to the field would be the best reason to believe that the 2013 Vikings could be better than the overachieving 2012 Vikings.

Harvin has behaved erratically since high school. The Vikings knew they were taking a risk when they used the 22nd pick in the 2009 draft on him. They judged that his talent outweighed his flaws. They were right.

What if, in August of 2009, someone could have guaranteed the Vikings that Harvin would, over the next four years, become the best combination slot receiver/running back/return man in football, while arguing with two head coaches, throwing one sideline tantrum and requesting a trade?

The Vikings would have taken that deal, because too often first-round draft picks become Troy Williamson or Erasmus James.

The Vikings shouldn't keep Harvin because they expect him to change. They should expect their organization to withstand the occasional knucklehead.

Recent history suggests that NFL locker rooms contain drug abusers, performance-enhancing-drug users, homophobes, drunk drivers, financial nightmares and random flakes. In other words, NFL locker rooms are like your office building, only with bigger paychecks and no old people.

Harvin shouldn't yell at his coaches, but the Vikings should have matured enough as an organization to handle it.

They used to tell stories at Winter Park about Bud Grant's meetings with the front office. The bosses would tell Grant they found a talented player who had a drug problem or a lousy attitude, and Grant would say, "You get me the talent, and I'll get them to play.''

Frazier should assume the same attitude. Having a calm head coach and strong locker room leadership should mean Harvin's outbreaks of insubordination bounce off the team's psyche like a mosquito off a windshield.

The old saying among baseball managers is that you don't want the guys who don't like you to spend much time with the guys who are undecided. Given Frazier's good standing with his players, Harvin can complain, but he's not going to assemble a quorum.

If the Vikings could trade Harvin for a star receiver, or a draft pick high enough in the first round that they would be guaranteed of getting the top player on their draft board, dealing him could become reasonable. The educated guess is that they would receive a second-round pick. That's not enough.

Harvin might hold out if he doesn't get a contract extension, or pout if he doesn't get one to his liking, but he's always played hard, and he doesn't practice anyway. He might be the athlete best suited to skipping camp and performing like a champ.

If Frazier thinks he can get him to produce 16 days a year, Harvin is worth one more roll of the dice.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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