Minnesota Vikings: Is Percy Harvin Worthy of a Huge Contract?
The Minnesota Vikings started this season as one of the biggest surprises in the NFL. Minnesota, which finished 3-13 last season, started off 5-2, and looked poised to stay in the NFC playoff hunt throughout the season. Since that hot start, the Vikings have gone 1-4, and look like a team that will be lucky to win another game.
On Wednesday, the Vikings made a decision that might absolutely seal their fate for 2012. The team placed wide receiver Percy Harvin on the Injured Reserve list, ending the season for the dynamic Harvin. Without Harvin, Minnesota is probably doomed to a 7-9 record, at best.
Over the first six weeks of the season, Harvin was one of the best players in the NFL. His dynamic contributions to the Vikings' offense helped make the team a legitimate playoff threat. Early in the season, many fans thought that the Vikings should, and would, tear up Harvin's rookie contract after the season, and negotiate a deal with the former Florida Gator that would make him one of the highest-paid players in the NFL.
While Harvin's abilities are not in question, it would be a huge risk on the part of the Vikings and general manager Rick Spielman to offer the mercurial wideout a watershed payday. This offseason will go a long way in determining the futures of both Harvin and the Minnesota franchise.
The following slides examine both the positive and negative aspects of offering Harvin a huge contract.
Minus: Harvin Isn't Always Mentally Stable
As ESPN 1500 Radio's Judd Zulgad states, Harvin seems to live in his own world at times.
In June, Harvin took to the social media to express his displeasure with the Vikings' situation, and demanded a trade. When questioned by reporters about his dissatisfaction, Harvin never gave a direct answer, and at one point acted as if he didn't understand what the media were talking about. This isn't adult behavior, and it's not the first time Harvin has made cryptic statements that forced the Vikings into spin mode.
Harvin is a competitor. He wants to win, and he wants the ball. These would seem to be positive attributes in an NFL player. However, when things don't meet his expectations, Harvin can become downright surly and is frequently vague about the reasons for his displeasure.
Minnesota would do well to keep Harvin happy. However, it seems that it's frequently difficult, if not downright impossible, to determine what it takes to achieve that state of affairs. If Harvin is unhappy, and refuses to say why, it's going to be very complicated to meet his needs.
Plus: Nobody Is More Dynamic on the Field
One reason that the Vikings should strongly consider giving Percy Harvin a big payday is that he is the NFL's premiere triple-threat.
When healthy, Harvin is one of the best two or three kickoff return specialists in the league. He made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist following his rookie season, and remains a threat to score every time he takes a kickoff.
Harvin's 105-yard return against the Detroit Lions earlier this season got the Vikings off to a great start in what became a significant victory. Nothing takes the wind out of an opponent faster than a huge kickoff return, and Harvin is a threat to score every time he fields the ball.
As a slot receiver, Harvin is also one of the league's best. His ability to run after the catch provides the Vikings with the ability to throw passes at or near the line of scrimmage and still get big gains. This cuts down on the chances of interceptions or poor throws, and Harvin is a threat to break loose every time he catches the ball.
Harvin is also a threat out of the backfield. He is dangerous on reverses, and unlike just about any wide receiver in the league, he can also line up at tailback and run effectively in the middle of the field. Harvin, more than any other Vikings, forces defenses to change their schemes to account for him.
There isn't a player in the NFL that is as dynamic as Percy Harvin. That alone makes giving him a big contract worth considering.
Minus: He Gets Hurt
Before the Vikings mortgage their future by giving Percy Harvin a huge contract, they would be wise to consider his injury history.
Harvin has missed significant playing time over the course of his career due to injuries. Only in 2011 has Harvin played in every game for Minnesota.
Harvin's tendency to get hurt isn't likely to change. He's not very big. The Vikings' media guide lists him as 5'11" and 184 pounds. That's small for any NFL player, and especially tiny for a player like Harvin, who tends to initiate contact more than avoid it.
Harvin plays with reckless abandon. While this helps make him one of the NFL's biggest offensive threats, it also bodes poorly for his ability to stay intact and on the field. It's hard to imagine Harvin playing three to five more seasons as he continues to grow older and his body breaks down from the constant pounding he gets on the field.
Giving a ton of guaranteed cash to a guy who misses roughly three games a season is a risky proposition at best. It's something that Spielman and the Vikings' brain trust need to take into consideration.
Plus: The Vikings Need Him
One of the biggest considerations that Minnesota has to take into account when deciding what to do with Harvin is the Vikings' roster.
As it stands, Harvin is the Vikings' only legitimate receiving threat, with the exception of second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Minnesota has tied its hopes to quarterback Christian Ponder, who has been a decidedly erratic performer. It's hard to tell if Ponder is simply not cut out to be an NFL-caliber quarterback, or if he's suffering on the field due to a lack of viable weapons.
Aside from one game against Detroit, Ponder has floundered dramatically without Harvin in the lineup. Teams are beginning to pay more attention to Rudolph, and they're stacking the line of scrimmage in an attempt (thus far largely futile) to slow down Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota running attack.
If Harvin is let go or traded, the Vikings are left with a bare cupboard at wide receiver. Jerome Simpson has failed to become the downfield threat that Minnesota hoped he'd be when they signed him to a free-agent contract in the offseason. Michael Jenkins is slow, and cannot break open with any degree of regularity. The Vikings' other wideouts don't inspire fear in opponents, with the possible exception of Jarius Wright. Wright has mostly performed to expectations as Harvin's replacement, but it's still too early to tell if the Arkansas rookie will be able to contribute to the offense if Harvin is also on the field.
There is also the fanbase to consider. Percy Harvin is one of the most popular players on the roster. Team owner Zygi Wilf just got approval from the Minnesota lawmakers and voters to construct a new stadium. It's in the team's best interest to demonstrate that it intends to put a winner on the field in the new venue, and letting Harvin go might send the wrong message.
It's also important to consider that, for at least one more season, Harvin comes cheap. His rookie contract has one year remaining, and Harvin is slated to make just over a million dollars in 2013. For a player of his skills, that's a ridiculously low number. While forcing Harvin to play out his contract would be a risky move, it would allow Minnesota to see if he can stay healthy and buy the Vikings some time to consider their options.
Minus: Harvin Is Not a Leader
When determining which players to give long and lucrative contracts to, teams have to consider the effect that the player has on the rest of the roster.
NFL teams have to spend wisely, and if a player is going to break the bank, he needs to be a leader on the field and in the locker room. Percy Harvin simply isn't a leader.
The Vikings have several players with big-money contracts. Defensive end Jared Allen, linebacker Chad Greenway, center John Sullivan and running back Adrian Peterson are all among the highest-paid players in the NFL at their positions.
Each of those guys earns that money, not only on the field, but in the locker room and in the community, as well. Greenway and Allen have charitable foundations, Peterson makes more public appearances than any Viking and Sullivan also represents the team at various functions.
On the field, all of the big-money Vikings earn their pay. Allen is famous for his motor. He plays with a joy and intensity that few NFL players can match. Both Greenway and Sullivan have recovered from relatively serious injury to become elite NFL performers, and Peterson's recovery from his knee injury last December is already the stuff of NFL legend.
No one questions Harvin's toughness. He plays with pain, and performs well despite injury. However, he also misses a lot of games, and even more practices for ailments ranging from his current sprained ankle to migraine headaches.
Worse than that, Harvin sets a horrible example in the locker room. When Harvin's crony, Randy Moss, was cut from the Vikings in 2010, Harvin went ballistic on then-coach Brad Childress. The two had to be separated on the practice field, and Harvin eventually threw a weight at the coach. (He missed.)
In the Seattle game in which Harvin was injured, he (prior to getting hurt) was seen on the sidelines screaming at coach Leslie Frazier, presumably about not getting the ball enough.
I've already mentioned his somewhat odd personality and his cryptic mood swings. Harvin needs to grow up and become a leader if he wants to get more money. You give the biggest paycheck to guys like Peterson, Allen, Greenway and Sullivan—your leaders. Right now, Percy Harvin is not a leader.
Verdict: A Risky Proposition
In the end, the Vikings are going to have to bite the bullet and pay Harvin.
The team will still have to add another wide receiver or two to help Harvin and Christian Ponder, but losing Harvin would create a void that the Vikings simply don't have the means to fill.
They could get another kick returner. He wouldn't be as explosive and dangerous as Harvin, but there are serviceable return men already on the roster.
They could pick up a decent third-down back, and would be okay out of the backfield. Currently, Harvin and Toby Gerhart serve as backups to Adrian Peterson. Gerhart is one of the league's best backup players, and more time on the field would only make him better.
They could use Jarius Wright or another receiver in the slot. This is where the loss of Harvin would be the biggest. While Wright has shown decent skills, no one in the NFL is more dangerous on short routes and screen passes than Harvin. The Vikings' offense is already somewhat less than awe-inspiring. Without Harvin in the slot, it becomes downright moribund.
Losing Harvin would force the Vikings to pick up at least two, if not three, players to replace his contributions. If the replacements were supposed to play at a level even close to that of Harvin, it might even be more cost effective to simply resign Percy. Even if he got $8 million a year, it might represent a savings over trying to fill his role with three guys who make $3 million a year and contribute less.
Minnesota has to hope that Harvin's migraines are a thing of the past. The Vikings also have to pray that with age comes maturity, and that Harvin's behavior on the sidelines and in the locker room would improve if he were given the kind of money that team leaders get. It's also possible that Harvin's injury history will improve as he becomes more mature and learns how to protect his body without sacrificing much in the way of explosiveness.
The reality is that signing Harvin to a long-term, big-money extension is a risk. However, it's a risk that the Vikings can't afford not to take.
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