Another in a series of important offseason issues facing NFC North teams:
In the past nine months, Percy Harvin has:
Questioned the reaction to his public statements
Played at an MVP level for eight games
Exchanged words with coach Leslie Frazier on the sidelines during the ninth game
Sprained his left ankle a few moments later
Reportedly had another exchange with Frazier at the team's facility
Went on injured reserve and never played again after the original ankle sprain
Returned to his Florida home to rehabilitate during the team's playoff push.
That series of events represents a microcosm of Harvin's four seasons with the Vikings. They are a stew of unique production, extraordinary versatility and eccentric behavior. There is no single smoking gun to suggest that Harvin's personality will stand in the way of extending a contract that would otherwise expire after the season. But there have been enough odd moments and strange plot twists to suggest that negotiations will be extraordinarily complicated.
On the one hand, Harvin is a 24-year-old player who proved last season that an offense can be built around him. The Vikings opened the season with a general intent of getting him the ball in space and, as we discussed in September, simply letting him do his thing. He scored touchdowns as a receiver, running back and kick returner and, even though he didn't play nine full games, opponents still missed an NFL-high 22 tackles against him, according to Pro Football Focus. Harvin also finished the season with the league's fifth-most yards after the catch (542).
On the other hand, of course, Harvin has built up a complex resume of what we can fairly call off-field question marks. There have been reports of heated exchanges with both Vikings coaches he has played for. As you might recall, players and coaches had to get between Harvin and former coach Brad Childress in 2010. And his long ankle rehabilitation was not the first time he missed a surprisingly extended period for health reasons; you might recall he missed most of training camp in 2010 at first because of a migraine headache, and later because of a family member's death.
Based on what we know, I would call Harvin high-maintenance and note he is far from the first professional athlete to earn that description. Quite frankly, he is a good-enough player to merit the extra effort it takes to employ him. Unless much more has happened behind the scenes than we know, Harvin hasn't crossed the line from being high-maintenance to a unmanageable problem in my eyes.
Yet with Harvin, there is always a suspicion that more has happened behind the scenes. Shortly after the Detroit Lions released Titus Young this week, I heard from someone who works for another NFL team asking if the Vikings would do the same thing with Harvin.
I don't think Harvin's situation is anywhere close to Young's, but it's possible the Vikings have just done a better job of keeping the significant drama under wraps. It's worth noting that Frazier stopped short of endorsing a long-term contract for Harvin during a radio interview with 1500 ESPN this week.
Even if the Vikings decided to move on from Harvin, he would almost certainly generate value on the trade market whereas Young did not. There would be no reason to cut him. All the same, Harvin might have trouble convincing the Vikings to pay him elite receiver money considering the history of eccentricity we have discussed. You have to assume a compromise is available. If not, the Vikings have a Big Decision on their hands.