Are the Minnesota Vikings Better off Without Percy Harvin?
The Minnesota Vikings have officially parted ways with Percy Harvin, trading the contentious wide receiver to the Seattle Seahawks for the team's first- and seventh-round draft picks in 2013 and a third-round pick in 2014.
Rick Spielman wasted no time finding a No. 1 receiver in the open market after Harvin's departure, signing Greg Jennings to a five-year, $47.5 million contract ($18 million guaranteed), according to ESPN's Josina Anderson.
To evaluate this question, we need to take several factors into consideration to determine whether losing Harvin ultimately helps or hurts the team.
The versatile receiver mostly played in the slot of Bill Musgrave's offense, but also lined up as an outside receiver, running back and kick returner. With that level of utility, it's difficult to justify trading a player who was considered an early-season MVP candidate and the lone playmaker at wide receiver.
Let's take a look at the value Harvin offered while playing in Minnesota.
Even after missing the final seven games of the 2012 season, Harvin led the Vikings with 62 receptions and 677 receiving yards. He added three touchdowns and was Christian Ponder's favorite target (85) during the nine games he played.
For his career with the Vikings, Harvin posted 280 receptions for 3,302 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Harvin played a critical role in Minnesota's offense over his four years with the team. He was the perfect complement to Sidney Rice in 2009 when the Vikings narrowly lost the NFC championship game with Brett Favre at the helm and was the main receiving weapon for Ponder in his last two seasons.
Harvin's best season came in 2011 with Ponder behind center, collecting 87 receptions for 967 yards and six touchdowns. He was also on pace to set career records in 2012 before being shut down on injured reserve.
Harvin added value that few receivers can offer in the running game. By no means was he competing with Adrian Peterson, but Harvin provided the type of playmaking skills that could be used in both the receiver position and in the backfield.
Whether passes behind the line of scrimmage, reverse plays or straight runs, the goal was simply to get the ball in his explosive grasp and watch defenses try to corral the former Florida standout.
In his career, Harvin never averaged less than four yards per carry, with a 9.0 average in 2009. His best season in total yards came in 2011 with 345, which was in the top 60 among all running backs.
Only Dexter McCluster of the Kansas City Chiefs had more rushing yards as a receiver with 516 in 2011. In combined rushing and receiving yards that year, Harvin finished 11th in the NFC among all players with 1,312 yards.
Harvin's career average of 6.4 yards per carry ranks first in NFL history among wide receivers with at least 100 rushing attempts and fifth among all players.
If the above statistical impact wasn't enough, Harvin shouldered the load for kick-returning responsibilities and made opposing special teams coaches hold their breath every time he returned a kickoff.
Harvin scored a return touchdown in every year playing with the Vikings, ending with five total touchdowns on 3,183 return yards.
When combined with rushing and receiving, Harvin has 7,168 all-purpose yards and 29 touchdowns.
By trading just one player, the Vikings lost a triple-threat on offense and special teams.
The team lost a player who was a productive slot receiver, ranks first in NFL history in rushing yards per carry among wide receivers and was an explosive threat returning kicks.
Was it worth it?
Adrian Peterson posted his thoughts on Twitter shortly after the trade was announced:
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!!!— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) March 11, 2013
We now know the dramatic journey of Harvin's 2012 season. It all started in the offseason prior to training camp. According to Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press, Harvin first voiced his concerns during minicamp in June 2012:
I just put it this way, there's a lot of different things that have to be sorted out, Harvin said. Just haven't been really happy lately. We've got a couple of things to work on. I'm here in the classroom. We'll go from there.
But things didn't go from there.
Harvin proceeded to sprain his ankle on Nov. 4 and throw a tirade against coach Leslie Frazier on the sidelines.
He followed that up by having another heated confrontation with Frazier weeks later in the training room of the Vikings' facility, which was rumored to be the reason for Harvin's placement on injured reserve (via Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com).
With the threat of a holdout for 2013, the Vikings finally traded the impassioned receiver to the Seahawks. Head coach Pete Carroll previously recruited Harvin out of high school to play for the USC Trojans and continues to praise him as a professional (via the Seattle Times):
He's so good you've just got to showcase him, Carroll said in October prior to the Vikings matchup in Week 9. He's a fantastic player. He was arguably the best player in America coming out of school.
Spielman clearly demonstrated faith in his third-year quarterback over that of Harvin, who reportedly complained that Ponder was not good enough leading the team.
I think the organization did the right thing, Carter said. I’m not surprised, given the situation with him not being happy and there being so little chance of a contract extension for the type of money he wants. So they’re better off, especially with a young quarterback, trading Percy and getting something for him compared to going through the season rolling the dice.
Carter hit on the crux of the issue—put up with Harvin's proverbial headaches for superior production or send the receiver packing.
The Vikings chose the latter.
Are the Minnesota Vikings better off without Percy Harvin?
In the end, I think the Vikings made the right decision for the team. Spielman was able to bring in a No. 1 wide receiver in Greg Jennings and stockpile draft picks to add future talent.
With a deep draft class at wide receiver, the Vikings may select Tavon Austin to replace Harvin, whom I highlighted in a recent mock draft. The receiver out of West Virginia ran a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash and has the same versatility as Harvin. Austin led the country in all-purpose yards as a junior and finished second last season.
Even if Austin is off the board when Minnesota selects at No. 23, the team could still add a player like Keenan Allen to play opposite Greg Jennings and feature current Viking Jarius Wright in the slot.
The various options are intriguing to contemplate and will continue to be speculated leading up to the NFL draft.
But I still share in Peterson's earlier sentiment.
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