If an old-timey big microphone was going to drop from the rafters down for a bald, silky monotone-voiced guy to make the fight introductions between Percy Harvin and the Vikings, it might go something like this:
“In this corner, weighing in at 185 pounds. He hails from Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is 24 years of age. If his four years in the NFL, he has re- written the Minnesota record books like a modern day Paul Bunyan. One of the most explosive playmakers in franchise history-y-y-y, he is the Threat Who’s Owed A Debt, The Grenade Who’s Underpaid. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Percyy-y-y-y Har-r-r-r-r-vin!”
Michael Buffer, eat your heart out. As the applause subsides, the other introduction is made.
“In this corner, weighing in at significantly more. They have been part of the NFL wars for more than half-century. In 1970, they won the NFL championship of the wor-r-r-r-ld. They have three more NFC title belts to their credit. They have sent 10 of their representatives to the prestigious Pro Football Hall of Fame. Over the last eight years, they have paid more than $1 bil-l-l-l-l-l-l-lion dollars to players. They are the Scandinavian Scourge, The Tower of Power, The House That Wilf Built. Put your hands together for the Minneso-o-o-o-ta-a-a-a Vi-i-i-i-i-i-kings!”
The introductions have been made, thanks in part to Harvin “calling out” the organization. His announcement of unhappiness came out of nowhere. It was planned. It was effective. Now the question is whether Harvin is ready to go the extra mile to make his point.
Historically, the Vikings are known for signing contract extensions in November and December. It smacks in the face of the conventional wisdom that accompanies the mantra, “We won’t talk contract until the end of the season.” The Vikings love to extend contracts during the season. Their M.O. is to announce contract extensions late in the season prior to the last year of a player’s current contract. They’ve done it with Kevin Williams and John Sullivan and extended Adrian Peterson and Chad Greenway just before last season, just to name a few. By that line of thinking, Harvin would be due to get his due somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But, therein lies the rub. Technically, Harvin is locked into the Vikings for the next two years. He put pen to paper on a five-year rookie contract that obligates him to the 2012 and 2013 season. Under the terms of his agreement, Harvin was scheduled to be paid $14.5 million (having met all contract incentives). However, of that $14.5 million, $8.5 million was guaranteed as a bonus to signing the deal. He finds himself now being paid $915,000 in base salary for this year and $1.55 million for 2013.
For what Harvin does for the team, does he deserve more? Definitely. Are the Vikings obligated to pay him what he is worth before training camp opens up in a little more than a month? Nope.
It’s going to be a classic case of “who blinks first.” The fight introductions have been made, now it’s time for the two combatants to get the referee’s instruction – the classic pre-fight staredown. Both sides are going to look as tough as they can, but the Vikings have one significant advantage in their favor.
If Harvin opts to hold out too far into training camp, he loses a year of tenure toward free agency. That would be so counterproductive to what he wants to achieve that, at that point, it would become a “line in the sand” type of standoff that wouldn’t be solved until either Harvin is signed to a long-term extension or is traded.
Remember Vincent Jackson? He got into a three-year standoff with the Chargers that resulted in him sitting out three months, reluctantly accepting a franchise tag and, when he finally got the chance, bolting via free agency. Eventually, he got paid. But, he had to relocate to do it and made himself a pariah among fans – loved and respected by some, treated like a franchise turncoat by others. Harvin finds himself in much the same predicament.
From the legal standpoint, the Vikings can make the claim that Harvin was given $8.5 million before he ever stepped on the field. That should be factored in like a salary cap number, which would say that he is actually making about $3 million this year and $3.5 million in 2013.
What makes the Harvin case understandable are two players – Darrelle Revis and Mike Wallace. Revis outperformed his contract to such a profound respect that he held out, drew the line in the sand and told the Jets the pay for play. The Jets eventually relented and Revis was given so much up-front money that he is rumored to be griping about his current deal, which he signed less than two years ago.
Wallace is different case. He was drafted the same year as Harvin by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Harvin, as a first-round pick, had two options – sign a four-year deal for less money or sign a five-year contract and get more money up-front – a smart organizational move considering the pending lockout that was looming in 2009 and the potential that the player’s share of the money pie wasn’t going to be nearly as large as it was when owners opted out of the deal. Wallace was a third-round draft pick subject to different contract structures. He signed a three-year deal that was very team-friendly. But, because of his production and inability to be an unrestricted free agent with three years of experience, the Steelers tendered him as a first-round compensation pick, which carried with it a guaranteed salary of $2.7 million – approximately twice what Harvin is due (in base salary) as a first-round pick under contract.
The problem we have here is not a failure to communicate, it’s two sides that are convinced they’re right. An argument can be made for both sides. Is Harvin underpaid in terms of what he has accomplished in the NFL? No question about that. Did he and his representatives approve the contract that he signed, which, at the time, seemed like a great deal? Yes.
One part of this saga that can’t be overlooked is that Harvin reportedly tested positive for marijuana at the Combine, which some have attributed as simply a means of easing the pain of migraine headaches. It’s an interesting argument, maybe even legitimate. But, in NFL terms, testing positive for marijuana is the most basic of failed drug tests. If not for that failed drug test, Harvin wouldn’t have been on the board at No. 22 when the Vikings took him. Had Harvin been a repeat offender, he would have been out of the NFL like JaMarcus Russell and the Vikings would have been out their up-front money.
Instead, Harvin has been clean and worthy of the team investing in him with a long-term contract. Harvin’s “impromptu” statement came as somewhat of a shock to the Vikings. But any time a player is “out-performing his contract” over an extended period of time, it’s time to accept the inevitable and pay him.
Adrian Peterson was given his $100 million deal based on past performance. Had the Vikings known he would blow his ACL and MCL less than four months after signing it, they may have had more reservations about it. Harvin has earned a contract extension – perhaps a four-year deal that would take him seven years in the league and then be subject to further review.
It can be argued Harvin is right. He is. It can be argued the Vikings are right. They are. The only difference is the Vikings can dig in their heels like the Chargers did with Jackson and force him to cave in. If Harvin wants out of Minnesota, denying himself a year of free-agent eligibility by holding out two weeks of training camp simply isn’t worth it. If he isn’t at training camp, he isn’t coming back until he gets a new contract. Why would he?
Unfortunately for him, the Vikings have deeper heels that can dig in and hold their ground much more easily than he can. They’ve been around for 52 years. They’ve had players before Harvin try to, in NFL parlance, hold them hostage. If a team relents to one, others could follow. It’s a sad stare-down scenario in which most organizations aren’t willing to relent.
Cooler heads can prevail. Harvin didn’t fire a shot across the bow Tuesday. It was more of a glove-slap. Twenty-four hours later, everyone knew where everyone stood, even if they aren’t exactly sure why. Now it’s up to people behind the scenes to get the job done. If not, this will become a turf war in which nobody wins. Not Harvin. Not the Vikings. And the worst part is that, if the turf war “is on,” the collateral damage will come to the rest of the team and their fans.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.