Harvin, Vikings at critical contract juncture

Percy Harvin (Otto Greule Jr.Getty)

Percy Harvin's sideline rant came at a critical time as the Vikings try to decide his dollar value to the team.

There is something to be said about sideline blowups. They can be useful at times. They can be divisive at times.

Longtime Vikings fans likely remember the scene in Chicago when Cris Carter was yelling at everyone from Dennis Green to Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss. The Vikings were struggling after going to two of the previous three NFC Championship Games and on their way to falling to 0-2 in 2001.

Carter's tirade was caught on national TV cameras and it was a clear sign of a divide within the team. By the time the 2001 season ended, Green quit before Red McCombs could fire him, and after the Vikings played the Ravens with Spergon Wynn as their quarterback in the game pushed to the end of the schedule by the Sept. 11 tragedies, Carter was playing his last game as a Viking.

In the last two games the Vikings have played, Percy Harvin has had a pair of sideline blowups. The NFL Network cameras didn't focus on Harvin's tirade directed at offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. The FOX TV coverage did pick up Harvin yelling in the direction of head coach Leslie Frazier. Two things made his complaining so captivating on TV. First, instead of getting in Harvin's face, Frazier walked away from him saying something back to Harvin that, from all appearances, didn't seem to be said at a high volume or with a trace of anger. Second was Harvin's reaction. Three separate times, he stopped yelling – only to yell something else in Frazier's direction. He was venting in a big way.

It's easy to understand Harvin's frustration. The Vikings offense has sputtered in recent weeks and everyone is frustrated. But Harvin is at a crossroads in his career where making a big stink could end up costing him millions of dollars – regardless of if team loyalty was an issue or not in his recent outbursts.

Since his rookie season, it has been clear that Harvin is a rare talent. Some may seem him as a niche player like Wes Welker, Devin Hester or DeSean Jackson. Their will and their skill alone can be the difference between winning and losing about two games a year. Adrian Peterson is worth two games a year, which shows the value Harvin has to a franchise. While his sideline rant was only on camera for a few seconds, it may end up resonating much longer with those who cut the checks for the Vikings organization.

Harvin is at a pivotal point in his career. He is in the fourth year of a five-year contract with the Vikings and, when things are going well, Harvin is typically front and center as to why things are going well. His base salary is $915,000 and his cap hit this year is $2,043,800. Next year, both of those numbers increase by more than $600,000, if he even makes it to that point in his contract. It's when things are going bad and how players react to adversity that makes the difference between being a player a franchise wants to keep and a player the franchise is willing to manipulate.

In the world of NFL, the owners own the hammer when it comes to contracts. Thanks to a positive marijuana test at the Combine and playing a role in an unconventional college offense that some teams wondered if it would translate to the NFL, Harvin dropped to the 22nd pick in the 2009 draft. The Vikings sent head coach Brad Childress down to Florida to take an "Odd Couple" style road trip with Harvin to make sure he had the right mental makeup.

What has happened the last two games with Harvin's emotional sideline blowups can be dismissed merely as an emotional player venting his frustration in the heat of battle. It happens much more often than many realize. It's only when the cameras catch it that it becomes noteworthy. It allowed a revisiting of Harvin's request for a trade in May, due more out of frustration about how the offense was utilizing its talents than it was about his contract. Things have changed since then.

Through the first half of the season, Harvin has been as dominant as any player in the NFL, working his way into the fringe of MVP discussions. However, the Vikings have had some behind-the-scenes reservations about making a franchise-type commitment to him. His hard style of play is great, but it comes at a cost. He gets hurt because he plays so hard. There is always the potential for injury to a speed merchant because, on those rare occasions when he gets hit at full speed by a defender with a head of steam behind him, collisions like that deploy air bags.

Given the Vikings history of signing players to long-term extensions during the season prior to the final year of their contract, the next few weeks could be critical in the Vikings' relationship with Harvin. If all goes well, Harvin gets the long-term extension the Vikings need to make their plan for the future work. If it doesn't, the next couple years could be interesting to say the least.

Much of what was shown on camera Sunday was a by-product of player frustration that bubbles to the surface in heated game. But when it comes at a time when a franchise is considering whether or not to make a major commitment to a franchise-type player in a franchise-type year, the timing couldn't be worse.

If Harvin's vocal opposition face to face with his head coach was nothing more than a heated conversation held between two men with a mutual respect of each other – despite the disparity in their position within the franchise – it will be water under the bridge and the Vikings will move on. If it runs deeper than that, the Vikings might consider not getting into negotiations for a long-term deal and create even more friction and animosity with their star receiver.

Harvin entered Sunday's game tied for first in the NFL in receptions, first in combined yards (rushing, receiving and returning), first in yards after the catch and first in the NFC in kickoff return average. Despite those numbers, he is 14th on the Vikings roster in average salary per year because he is still in his rookie contract.

There is going to be more adversity coming down the line for the Vikings. In a world where perception is everything, Harvin needs to be careful not to let his frustration get in the way of being viewed as insubordinate. With millions of dollars hanging in the balance if the Vikings are going to commit long-term to Harvin to keep him a Viking for years to come, Harvin needs to keep his frustration in-house and behind-the-scenes – that's what leaders do.


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.


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