Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's All About Percy

Percy Harvin dominated the news last week as he aired an unspecified frustration to the media, skipped an afternoon practice at Vikings mandatory mini-camp and demanded a trade before he showed up for practice the next day pretending that nothing happened, refused to talk to the media, and took to Twitter to thank all the "real Vikes fans." It goes without saying that it was a busy week for Harvin and a confusing one for the fan base.

The commotion began on Tuesday, the first day of a three-day mandatory mini-camp, when Harvin essentially beckoned the media to announce that he was not happy but refused to say why. Later that day, he tweeted that his frustrations had nothing to do with money. Then, on Wednesday, he skipped a practice and was now demanding a trade. But, by Thursday, he was back at practice acting as though nothing had happened and declined to speak to the very media he had voiced his dissatisfaction with in the previous days. Later that afternoon, Harvin posted on his Twitter page, "I'm really clueless on the crazy reports. Had a great (practice) today ... To all my real fans and real Vikes fans see u at Mankato."

So, where to start with this?  First of all, the "crazy" reports weren't reports at all, rather beat writers transcribing Harvin's own muddled comments on the reasons for his unhappiness. He initiated the reports himself, then turned around and played dumb so he wouldn't have to address the issue. Columnist Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press called Harvin "gutless" on that front in an article he wrote last week which is definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.

As for Harvin's claim that money was not the instigator of his behavior, in order for us not to believe Harvin we would have to believe that there are no other existing issues he has with the team. Au contraire. They are as follows:

  • Wide receiver coach George Stewart inadvertantly referred to him as "Jarius."
  • The Vikings forgot to send him an e-card from American Greetings wishing him a "Happy 4/20 Day."
  • Ryan Longwell owed him $20.
  • The team wouldn't allow him to change the name on the back of his jersey to "He Hate Me." 
  •  He demanded to know exactly what Mike Singletary's job with the team is.

Any one of these, let alone a combination thereof, would certainly validate a professional athlete to throw a tantrum, would it not?

Believe it or not, there is a point to this facetiousness; i.e., either it was about his contract or something he and the team are too embarrassed to disclose to the public. As to the latter, there were rumors that perhaps Harvin doesn't get along with Christain Ponder or offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, or he simply was looking for assurances that he would be utilized more in the offense -- none of which would justify his behavior.

The Vikings just drafted Ponder but two years ago in hopes that he could become their franchise QB.  So, is the team supposed to cut him because Harvin deems him unworthy of the Percy posse?  As for Musgrave, the NFL isn't the NBA where a player like Dwight Howard gets to call the shots as to which players are traded and which coaches are fired. It never worked that way in the NFL, and it never will. When players like Santonio Holmes, Randy Moss, and TO start acting like they are above the team, usually the end result is that they are simply Launchpad McQuack'ed right out of town. But, if either of those scenarios had legitimacy, Harvin most likely would not have waited until a mandatory minicamp to voice his discontent. There were OTA's a month earlier. So, why not then?

As for Harvin being under-utilized in the offense, there is a notion that because he played only 58% of the snaps last season that his numbers are being hindered by lack of opportunity. Hornswaggle!  Last season, Harvin had 139 total offensive touches (not including kick returns) for an average of 8.7 per game. Those offensive touches were the most of any wide receiver in the league.

In fact, Harvin's stats are of themselves indicia that the Vikings were forcing the ball as often as they could to him. His 87 receptions were sixth best in the league; but his anemic 11.1 yards per reception ranked him 92nd in that category. What is more, Harvin's 60.4 receiving yards per game was only 33rd best in the league despite finishing seventh overall in yards after catch at 6.17. Such stats infer that Harvin was often targeted at or near the line of scrimmage; a happenstance reserved almost exclusively for those whose team is going out of its way to get him the rock. Besides, after Harvin returned to practice on Thursday, seemingly having resolved with the team whatever it was that lead to his tantrum, Leslie Frazier let it be known that Harvin won't necessarily be in for more touches this season. So, it goes without saying that was not the issue.

What other money-unrelated factors Harvin may have deemed pertinent enough to have caused the disturbance that he did for is anyone's guess. But whether he wanted a better parking place, a better locker, his own dorm room at training camp, the construction to finally end at the I-494/Hwy 169 junction, or an advanced IMAX screening of The Dark Knight Rises, all such "peripheral issues" are just petty and juvenile and beneath anyone who considers himself a professional.

In other words, the most justifiable reason for his behavior would be if it had been about the money. But, there again, a dilemma of Harvin's own making rears its ugly head because Harvin tweeted to the fans that the fiasco did not have anything to do with money. And if there is one thing sports fans despise more than having their intelligence insulted by an athlete who was stupid enough to get popped on a dirty UA at the NFL Combine despite knowing he would have to submit a UA at the NFL Combine, it is a professional athlete who blatantly lies to them.

And what about the money aspect?

On Wednesday, June 20, the Star Tribune ran an article which stated, inter alia, this: 

"Considering Harvin’s importance to the offense, he has every right to be frustrated about that. He has every right to want to get his millions now, coming off a career-best year in which he was one of the three or four most dangerous wide receivers in the NFL throughout the second half of the season. Essentially everyone but Harvin himself (if his Tweets are to be believed) agrees that he’s being vastly underpaid, which is exactly why this has to be about the money."

"Vastly" underpaid?  Compared to who?  Calvin Johnson?  Larry Fitzgerald?  Andre Johnson?  All those guys are elite, All-Pro z-receivers who play on the outside and take the top off of defenses. Harvin mostly plays the y-receiver, or "slot."  If the Vikings considered him a feature receiver we wouldn't have heard all the talk this offseason about their need for a "vertical receiver" and their alleged interest in Pierre Garcon.   

Vastly underpaid as compared to young, "unproven" receivers like A.J. Green and Julio Jones?  Both of their base salaries are predicated on the fact that they went fourth and sixth overall in the draft respectively. Harvin had the talent to go just as high when he came out but he, literally, pissed it away when he tested positive for weed at the NFL Combine.

What about other slot receivers?  Harvin had his best year as a pro in 2011 when he recorded 87 receptions for 967 yards and six TD's playing in all 16 gams for the first-time in his career. These stats are indeed better than most slot receivers; but Harvin is already getting paid better than most slot receivers. If salaries are based on production, it's worth looking at other receivers' base salaries in order to fathom whether Harvin has a legitimate gripe when it comes to his own base salary of $2.41 million (if indeed that was the reason for his behavior at minicamp).

Wes Welker is not only the premier slot man in the league, he is statistically one of the most prolific slot receivers in the history of the game. Welker is currently franchise tagged. Welker's numbers are superior, so Harvin is neither paid as much as Welker nor should he be.

New Orleans' prominent slot receiver Marques Colston just signed an incentive-laden five-year extension worth an estimated $7 million per year in base salary. Since entering the league in 2006, Colston has been one of the most reliable receivers in the game, failing to record a 1,000-yard season only once in 2008 when, due to injury, he played in only 11 games. Playing in only 14 games last season, Colston had 80 receptions for 1,143 yards and 8 TD's.

Like Colston, Baltimore's Anquan Boldin is an "over-sized" slot receiver making $7 million a year in base salary. A ten-year veteran, Boldin has five 1,000-yard seasons on his résumé but his better years are definitely behind him. His stats a year ago were still respectable with 57 receptions for 887 yrds and three TD's in 14 games.

Prior to last season, the Packers' Jordy Nelson was used primarily in the slot and posted similar numbers to Harvin in 2010. Though Nelson did most of his damage last year from the x-receiver position following an injury to Donald Driver, head coach Mike McCarthy let it be known that he sees Nelson getting a lot more action from the slot next season. Nelson signed a three-year extension last year for a base salary of $4.45 million per year. His stats last season:  68 receptions for 1,263 yards (18.6 average per catch) with an astounding 15 TD's.

Getting paid vastly less than Harvin, though, at a base salary of $405,000 from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants is Victor Cruz. An emerging superstar, Cruz became the darling of fantasy football aficionados last year as he grabbed 82 passes for 1,536 yards (18.7 average) and salsa-danced in the endzone nine times.

And then there is Patriots' tight end Aaron Hernandez. Like Harvin, Hernandez played multiple positions and 64 percent of his snaps last year from the slot. His numbers (79 receptions, 910 yards, 11.5 yards per catch, 7 TD's) were almost exact to those of Harvin's despite playing in 14 games as compared to Harvin having played in all 16. Hernandez's base salary:  $594,000.

But, Harvin is also multidimensional on account that he returns kickoffs and works as a spot running back (Welker and Cruz also occasionally return kicks; Hernandez has been utilized as a running back), right?

With kickoffs being moved to the 35-yard line instead of the 30, a much higher percentage of NFL kickoffs were not returnable last season, minimizing the impact of kick returners. In effect, Harvin returned only 16 kicks last season -- an average of one per game. Harvin’s impact on special teams is thus limited because of the increased touchbacks and also because he doesn’t return punts. Moreover, the Vikings signed Bryan Walters and drafted Jarius Wright during the offseason and the Vikings let it be known that both will be competing for the kick-returner gig this year.

Harvin’s influence running the ball also appears overvalued. The fact that it is very rare for a wide receiver to be a threat running the ball makes fans think of him as more of a dynamic runner than he actually is; Harvin averages just under two rushing attempts per game for his career; and that even includes his escalated amount last year following Adrian Peterson's knee injury. Furthermore, considering Leslie Frazier's statement in the previously-cited CBS report that "you have to be careful about not overusing [Harvin]" because of his "reckless" style, it's hard to see his role increasing as a runner in the future.

While many people maintain that Harvin’s value exceeds his production on just the offensive side, Harvin’s all-around impact is simply overrated. While Percy is indeed a valuable player, he isn't a indispensable one. After all, Harvin had his best year as a professional last year and the Vikings won but three games. There are those who will say that "Percy can't do it himself" which is exactly the point:  football is the quint-essential team sport; and unlike, say, the NBA again, where one or (usually) two superstar players on a roster will automatically qualify that team for several championships, Lombardi trophies are won on the principle of playing as a team.

The Philadelphia Eagles learned that lesson the hard way last season. After going on a free-agent binge following the work stoppage -- signing Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, amongst others -- the pundits acclaimed them Super Bowl favorites just as the Eagles acclaimed themselves "The Dream Team." Because of the Eagles free spending in the offseason, wide receiver DeSean Jackson wanted to get his also. When Philly didn't make him a contract extension, Jackson went into a season-long pout mode which players admitted at year's end was a distraction. Whether that was just an excuse for the team's bad season or not, Jackson still ended up making a public apology to the team and the fans.

Though Harvin has always been considered a good teammate, at least hitherto, he has demonstrated anything but that particular trait this offseason. Any Harvin apologists who wish to make excuses for his behavior this past week need only look to the example Adrian Peterson set while he waited patiently for the Vikings to so much as make him a contract extension offer.

Being arguably the best running back in the NFL since entering the league as a rookie, Peterson embodied a once-in-a-generation "franchise player." Playing at the most punishing of positions in a physical, violent style which invites contact, Peterson was looking for a contract extension as soon as his third year in the league. Not receiving any such offers from the Vikings until the final year of his contract, AP still stood in front of the media with a smile on his face and answered questions like a man -- even questions about his contract status -- and played as hard as anyone has ever played the game on Sundays.

The fact that Harvin was so willing to pout like a petulant child on the very field that Adrian Peterson was busting his ass off on in order to assure his return by the opening game of the upcoming season is a tenable inference that Harvin is not a team player. And if his demands are that he be paid like an elite receiver he is clearly being unreasonable.

And Harvin hates to practice and is not all that fond of spending any more time than is necessary above the Mason–Dixon Line, let alone in the "dry air" of Minnesota. Keep in mind that when Christain Ponder wanted to organize workouts last off-season with the receiving corp during the work stoppage, Harvin had "other things" to do with his time. What is more, when players rallied with fans at the state capital in order to lobby the Minnesota legislature for a new Vikings stadium Harvin was no where to be seen in spite of his rumored steps "towards a leadership role" with the team. Even while rehabbing his knee, Adrian Peterson found the time to join fans at the event(s). Chad Greenway had/has an ailing father but, nontheless, he too found the time to be at the capital. John Carlson -- having yet to play a single down in a Vikings' uniform -- was even there!  But no Percy.

As Mike Florio posted on Profootballtalk:

"Of course, the fact that Harvin seems happy for now doesn’t mean that everything will continue to be fine going forward.  Though he never has been a full-blown malcontent, Harvin has enough of a history of alleged outbursts to make it reasonable to be leery that another one is lurking with the same degree of predictability as the migraines from which he once suffered on a fairly regular basis."

The Vikings would be wise not to try too hard to appease Percy Harvin.


  1. I hear you on a lot of this stuff but I'm not ready to give up on Harvin yet. Sure he's no #1 but a true one wouldn't get very far without a guy like Harvin to take double teams off of him either. It makes you do some headscratching with the way he acted though. If you have a contract, honor it. That's how it goes. if these guys don’t like it they can go do something else.

    Nelson with 15 td's!!!! Probably half came against Vikings.