Opinion: The Vikings should act now if they want to maximize trade value for Percy Harvin.
By BRIAN HALLFS North
General manager Rick Spielman and the key members of the Minnesota Vikings will head to the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis later this month after weeks of evaluating the current roster.
Judging the annual crop of college players auditioning for the draft is just a part of the agenda for Minnesota. Spielman will be making the rounds as he usually does, meeting with agents and other teams with the names of current Vikings surely to come up in conversations.
There is one name Spielman and the team's staff probably wishes wouldn't be a focus:
But as the offseason activity heats up at the combine in two weeks, Harvin will likely be a hot topic. It speaks as much to Harvin's elite playmaking ability as it does his emotional personality. Harvin has become a unique star in the NFL, a versatile talented receiver who led the NFL in catches last year at the time of an ankle injury. He's proven the ability to affect games as a receiver, runner and as one of the most dynamic kickoff returners in the league.
And now might be time for the Vikings and Harvin to go their separate ways.
After a report over the weekend that Minnesota was likely to look at trading its mercurial star receiver, Pro Football Talk reported Monday that Harvin, according to a league source, is expected to "stay away" from the team's offseason workouts and training camp if his contract isn't re-worked.
Harvin, the four-year pro who was a relative steal when he dropped to Minnesota with the 22nd pick in the 2009 draft, is a standout at perhaps the weakest position on the Vikings' roster, a playmaker only behind MVP running back Adrian Peterson in Minnesota's offense. He's also a conundrum.
He's been prone to outbursts, both public and behind closed doors. Harvin has seemingly put his migraine issues in the past, but his durability is still a concern. Harvin is tough and willing to take punishment that would defy his size (5-foot-11, 184 pounds). And just as importantly, because of the previous two issues, he is due a healthy new contract.
Harvin, 24, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. By hitting bonus incentives, he's due $2.9 million next season. Minnesota has been known to try and extend players entering the final year of their contracts, but Harvin's case comes with a little more nuance. He'll likely earn a sizable raise. Can the Vikings, knowing his penchant for blowups and injuries, afford to pay Harvin the money he will desire?
His recent run-ins with Minnesota's coaches, particularly current head coach Leslie Frazier, could cost Harvin, at least from the Vikings perspective. Frazier has deftly handled the issues with Harvin, that have reportedly included a trade request last summer, missing part of the mandatory minicamp, and then the mysterious situation regarding his sprained ankle that eventually led to him being put on injured reserve last season while Minnesota was making a run to the playoffs. Reportedly, Harvin directed his more recent outburst at Frazier — Harvin also had similar run-ins with previous coach Brad Childress, including reportedly throwing a weight in the weight room in his direction — which ultimately led to Harvin's IR stint.
Frazier maintains publicly, there is no issue with Harvin.
"He'll coexist peacefully," Frazier said at his season-ending press conference. "He exists peacefully now."
Spielman has gone the same route. He said there are "no issues" with Harvin and said placing the enigmatic receiver on injured reserve was about preserving his long-term health. Both Spielman and Frazier would probably prefer a happy Harvin on their team. They've maintained their support of Harvin in recent appearances, speaking about his ability as a player.
They haven't gone out of their way, at least recently, to say for sure Harvin will be with the Vikings in 2013, which leads to the speculation and reports of Minnesota being open to trading Harvin.
Now might be the perfect time for such a deal.
There would likely be plenty of suitors lining up for the chance at landing Harvin, who was touted as an MVP candidate early last season when the Vikings got off to a 4-1 start while Peterson, the eventual MVP, was still getting back to full strength.
Trading Harvin comes with the caveat that Minnesota, coming off its surprise playoff appearance and looking to improve again this offseason, would need quality in return. Harvin, who is fully healthy according to Frazier, led Minnesota with 62 catches and 677 receiving yards this season despite missing seven games. He was leading the NFL in catches at the time of his injury and his 35.9-yard kickoff return average was also a league-high at the time.
Yet, without Harvin, the Vikings went 5-2 and made their postseason run by winning their last four regular season games. Without Harvin, quarterback Christian Ponder seemed to grow more comfortable spreading the ball to several different receivers. Rookie Jarius Wright, while not on Harvin's athletic level, showed some ability to do similar things.
And Harvin, for all his advanced skill, isn't a downfield threat. Harvin is more of a possession receiver, working underneath, with nearly unmatched run-after-catch abilities.
Even with Harvin, Minnesota will likely be looking to overhaul at the receiver position. Trading him, for quality draft picks, could give even more options to find the right mix at the position. Not re-signing Harvin to a big contract would also open up money to be allocated elsewhere, possibly in free agency where receivers like Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace, Green Bay's Greg Jennings and Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe could be available.
In the end, Harvin, intended or not, might have done just what he needed to find his way out of Minnesota. To maximize value, which rarely comes from trading players of Harvin's ilk, the Vikings might have to act now. They would be hard-pressed to give their talented, but emotional receiver the dollars he will command knowing the impact he makes with his mouth as much as his hands and feet.
A resolution now, with names surely being mentioned at the combine, makes sense for both parties.