And if they do, he should end up being the highest paid of all wide receivers to change teams this offseason, and for good reason. If I were running a team, Harvin would leap to the top of my receiver wish list. I'll take Harvin at, say, $12.5 million a year over Mike Wallace at $11 million or Greg Jennings at $10 million, even if I have to give up a second-round pick and then some to get him.
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Harvin has already displayed that he can be a difference maker on an offensively inept team, and heaven only knows what the dynamic and versatile threat could accomplish on a contending team that had a capable quarterback and a few other weapons around him in the passing game. It's a luxury that some lucky offensive coach (Andy Reid, anyone?) just might get to partake in come the 2013 season, given the bind in which Vikings general manager Rick Spielman find himself.
Harvin, who briefly requested a trade a year ago before mending fences with coach Leslie Frazier, is not going to play for $2.9 million (the amount left on his rookie deal) this season. This, too, the Vikings know. And despite trying to explore options to extend Harvin since before the start of the 2012 season, well, things have gone pretty much nowhere. Yes, the sides will discuss the matter again during the combine, but even then I'd be surprised if there were any monumental breakthroughs.
So, much like the Jets with Darrelle Revis, the Vikings -- short of giving Harvin $25 million guaranteed and somewhere around $13 million a year themselves -- must analyze whether it makes more sense to deal Harvin now for what you can get for him, or watch him leave for nothing but a compensatory pick a year from now. It's an unenviable position to be in, as the rest of the NFL is acutely aware of what is transpiring, and thus Spielman is not in a position of strength to accrue maximum return for Harvin on the trade market.
He's not going to get a first-round pick for Harvin, despite him being a first-round talent, given these circumstances. But for a player who has clearly been uncomfortable with the Vikings' offensive direction -- or lack thereof -- at various times during his brief career, and with Minnesota hard against the cap (restructuring Jared Allen is a must, while key parts of the offensive line are hitting free agency), and Harvin quite possibly not a part of their long-term future anyway, the Vikings' best bet may be to shop him around now, despite the fact that Minnesota is already desperate for playmakers in the passing game to try to boost the team after last season's surprising playoff run.
As for other general managers, especially those sitting on mounds of cap space and in need of match-up nightmares on offense, well, Harvin must be seen as the best available. For all of the depth of this wide receiver class, Harvin is younger than Wes Welker, far more versatile that Wallace, no more fragile than Jennings and more consistent than Dwayne Bowe.
What's more, Harvin can help you win a football game on every down. He is one of the best return threats in the NFL and an elite slot receiver. Of course, you can also line him up out wide. And he proved to be a game-changer out of the backfield with the Vikings as well, the best back on the team not named Adrian Peterson. If you want to run some read-option/Wildcat stuff, well, he could quarterback that for you if need be. He is too fast to be covered by most, and his agility and improvisational skills make him a perfect fit for this pass-happy/spread formation era of football.
Harvin is just entering his prime and seems to have put his migraine problems behind him. This is someone who was a legitimate MVP candidate last season before getting hurt and someone who can match up among the best in the game at several different positions. And let's not pretend that these other receivers are a sure thing, as Jennings has been oft-injured and is nearing age 30, Bowe drops plenty of balls, Wallace wilted under the pressure of playing in a contract year in 2012 following his prolonged hold-out, and it's also worth noting that Wallace and Jennings have played with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks while Harvin has played, with, well, pretty much no one.
Also, I can't state this strongly enough: Harvin doesn't turn 25 until the end May. He's younger that Colin Kaepernick, for goodness sake, despite entering his fifth NFL season. And he can beat you in the screen game. He can beat you in the intermediate passing game. He can beat you in the deep game. And he can beat you carrying the football.
I understand the injury concerns. I understand some of the issues of attitude and clashing with coaches. But I have talked to enough of his teammates to understand some of Harvin's frustrations with the lack of a full-bodied offensive attack with the Vikings, and to a man his teammates say he is driven to win. He can be immature and he's made some mistakes, but no one this talented hits the trade market this young unless there have been a few bumps in the road.
I'd take my chances with him.
In terms of yards after the catch, his numbers last season were nearly identical to those of Darren Sproles, again, without being a part of an offense nearly as balanced as the New Orleans', and without Drew Brees getting him the football. All he's done is average a ridiculous 6.4 yards per carry in his career. He has five career return touchdowns. His average of 74 scrimmage yards per game -- from 2009 to 2012 -- puts him right with receivers like DeSean Jackson and Vincent Jackson, and among all players with at least 50 rushes and 100 receptions since 2009, Harvin's average of 10.3 scrimmage yards per touch is far and away tops in the NFL.
I'm having a hard time even coming up with a large list of individuals who approach at least 100 rushes and at least 250 receptions since 2009 -- numbers Harvin eclipses despite the time he has missed. Sproles has at least 250 catches and rushes since 2009, in 61 games, and averages 7.1 per touch with 26 touchdowns; Harvin has 10.3 per touch with 24 touchdowns in 54 games, and is a more explosive and complete receiver than Sproles, obviously.
Harvin's game can't be captured in stats, however. To watch him sneak out of tight spaces and create yards where there are none, and explode downfield despite everyone on the other side keying on him in the passing game, and despite playing on teams with no semblance of a downfield threat, is to be pulled from your seat.
The young man is a football player, plain and simple, and his best is yet to come. Unfortunately for Spielman and Vikings fans, that just might transpire elsewhere.