EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Percy Harvin was out of sight, and maybe out of mind, as the Minnesota Vikings went on their late-season push to get into the playoffs.
Harvin, who was at home in Florida with an injured ankle while his team won the last four games of the regular season, still hasn’t returned for his exit interviews and physical in what could be an important offseason for Minnesota and its emotional and talented receiver. Harvin, who missed the season’s final seven games but led the team with 62 catches and 677 receiving yards, will enter the final year of his rookie contract in 2013.
And though his departure during the team’s playoff run was unusual, as was the team’s sudden Dec. 5 decision to put him on season-ending injured reserve with a lingering injury, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has no concerns about Harvin’s character or attitude.
“Percy comes to work every day,” Spielman said Thursday during his season-ending press conference. “Everybody sees what Percy puts on the field. He plays the game as hard, or harder, than anyone else in the NFL, the effort that he puts up out there. So, we have no issues with Percy Harvin.”
Spielman said Harvin, who has one year and a $1.55 million base salary left on the rookie contract he signed as the No. 22 overall pick in the 2009 draft, has not been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Yet his absences, as well as some notable conflicts, have raised questions about Harvin’s future with the Vikings.
Entering last offseason, Harvin was trying on a new role as team leader and attempted to rally teammates to offseason workouts. Then he had minor shoulder surgery, which kept him out of many of those same workouts. On the first day of minicamp, Harvin surprised everyone by stating there were a “couple different issues” that need to be worked out between him and the team and a reported trade request came out. He skipped an afternoon mandatory practice and then returned for the final day of minicamp and tried to downplay the previous few days. By the time training camp rolled around, everything had seemingly been put in the past and Harvin was there with his teammates.
Then, in the midst of back-to-back losses in the middle of the season, Harvin seemed upset with either quarterback Christian Ponder or the play-calling. After a particularly rough series at Seattle, Harvin was seen yelling at coach Leslie Frazier on the sideline. It was the same game in which Harvin later suffered the severely sprained ankle that cost him the rest of the season.
Harvin was expected to miss only one game, with a bye week added in for recovery. But the pain, and the questions about his status, lingered before he was eventually placed on injured reserve. As soon as he went on IR, Harvin disappeared from team facilities and Frazier said he had returned to Florida.
Frazier said this week he hasn’t spoken with Harvin, though the training staff remains in contact with him. Frazier said he’s eager to talk with the receiver upon his return to Minnesota for the interviews and physical but that the discussion will be health-based and not about his lack of interaction with the team.
“I don’t know if there is anything that needs to be done,” Frazier said Tuesday. “I mean, he’ll coexist peacefully. He exists peacefully now. Just get back, get healthy, get back on the football field.”
There are no issues when it comes to Harvin’s impact on the field. He was looked upon as a possible early MVP candidate this season by his teammates after helping Minnesota to a 4-1 record. He led the league in receptions, all-purpose yards and kickoff return average at the time of his ankle injury.
Harvin and the team held out hope he could return, and he tested out the ankle before practice a few times but never felt comfortable. A day after Frazier was non-committal about Harvin’s status, the Vikings abrubtly put him on injured reserve.
“It’s something that we felt was best for Percy,” Spielman said, adding the decision was between him and Frazier with the input of the medical staff. “We didn’t want to ruin any long-term or longevity issues and put him out there if he wasn’t going to be able to play and risk further injury. … Percy was, as any player is, so competitive that they want to play. Mentally you may want to play, but physically you may not be able to play. And then sometimes, when you make those decisions, you’ve got to make it in which you think is in the best interest of the football player for the long term.”
As the Vikings were preparing for the playoffs, Harvin was nothing more than an afterthought.
Now, in full offseason mode, Harvin won’t be a forgotten man. He might be the most important aspect of the current team that Spielman and his staff will have to sort through. Do the Vikings offer an extension to the volatile, talented receiver? Do they explore a trade, knowing they made the late-season run without Harvin? Can they leave his situation, and his potential for emotional flare-ups, without a resolution heading into the final year of his contract?
“There’s a lot of guys out of Percy’s draft that are playing for us that are going into the final year of their deal,” Spielman said. “Like I said, we go through every single guy on our roster, look at when their deals are coming up. Should we extend them or try to get it done a year early? How does that fit our work with Rob Brzezinski, who is great at what he does keeping us straight on our cap situation? And how we can keep a competitive roster?”
There may be “no issues,” but there is a lot for Spielman to sift through.