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Updated: July 11th, 2012 9:52pm
Pelissero: Gauging value not easy as Percy Harvin aims for new deal

Pelissero: Gauging value not easy as Percy Harvin aims for new deal

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

No personnel man in the NFL needs a reminder about the issues that caused Percy Harvin to fall to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 22 in the 2009 draft.

But there was something familiar about Harvin's outburst last month, when he surprised the team and perhaps his own circle by complaining to reporters about his unhappiness, skipping a practice at the mandatory minicamp and asking to be traded.

"It sounds and it looks as if nothing's really changed," said a veteran executive in personnel for another NFL team. "You deal with those things as they come up and you try to manage the situation and you try to do the best that you can. But it sounds as if there are still some concerns with the player."

Harvin, 24, has spent his first three NFL seasons trying to escape the reputation he built at the University of Florida, where he failed at least two drug tests and showed a pattern of insubordinate, manipulative behavior towards coaches and other authority figures.

To an extent, Harvin has accomplished that -- no substance-abuse suspensions, no arrests and only one publicized altercation with a coach, Brad Childress, who was fired 17 days later. He set career highs last season in receptions (87), combined rushing/receiving yards (1,312) and touchdowns (nine) while playing all 16 games for the first time.

"There's different personalities that you have to deal with on a daily basis," general manager Rick Spielman said last month.

"But when you look at it and you look at Percy and what he brings to us on the field and how much passion he has to play football and gives us a great opportunity to win on Sundays when he's on the field -- you have to understand ... how we're going to have to handle this player and is he going to be handled differently and what do we have to do differently to handle that player."

Harvin's supporters would even spin the minicamp blowup as a sign of progress, since he rescinded the trade request before attending the last day of minicamp and then downplayed the entire incident on Twitter with a pledge to report for training camp.

He is well-liked and respected in the locker room for his talent and fearless approach. He has a passion for the game so many receivers lack. He's all football, at least on Sundays.

Still, skepticism persists about Harvin, even without considering questions about his durability and chances for becoming a fully dimensional receiver. He has a reputation within the building for being emotional and unpredictable, to the point team officials were relieved he even reported the shoulder problem that led to surgery in April.

Now, Harvin is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract and has no intention of playing out the fifth without a new deal. That means the Vikings -- and perhaps the rest of the NFL -- must decide sooner than later how much of a chance they're willing to take for the services of one of the game's premier slot players.

"There wasn't just one issue or two issues at Florida," the executive from another team said. "It was a chronic issue through his time spent at Florida. The Vikings had to take him knowing that all these things had existed. Anybody that took Percy Harvin knew that these behavioral instincts and the management and maintenance of the player -- they were all there.

"Some of those issues led to the possibility of those things carrying forward to the future, and you deal with those things when you decide to take that sort of risk. Would he get paid? I don't know."

Money matters

A scan of Harvin's contract, a copy of which was obtained by 1500ESPN.com, suggests the Vikings minimized their initial risk with a modest signing bonus ($981,500) and two other bonuses -- a one-time, playtime-based roster bonus of $2,158,500 and a $3.62 million option bonus in the second year -- dictating guarantees in the rest of the deal.

Such clauses weren't unusual in that area of the 2009 draft, though. For instance, the player selected immediately after Harvin, Baltimore tackle Michael Oher, received an initial $940,000 roster bonus and a second-year option bonus of $4.7 million.

Harvin is due only $655,000 in base salary this coming season, plus a $27,500 workout bonus. The final year of his deal is loaded with escalators designed to grease the wheels on renegotiation -- $375,000 of which Harvin unlocked as a rookie to push his base salary to $1,550,000 and another $2.825 million available.

Spielman is close with Harvin's agent, Joel Segal, and acknowledged recently the two had "talked over the last couple days, and hopefully, we'll get to move on from where we're at."

Though Harvin has made clear he expects a new deal after this season, several NFL sources said Harvin's unhappiness didn't stem directly from his contract, and both sides have gone to great lengths to prevent the core of the issue from becoming public.

One possible factor in the team's silence is the HIPAA privacy rule, which the Vikings have used in the past to shield themselves from discussing a player's health issues -- and Harvin has had plenty, including the shoulder that sidelined him for much of the offseason after what he called a family matter delayed surgery to remove bone spurs.

A catch-all migraine diagnosis, sleep apnea and reactions to medication were used to explain his repeated absences during his first two NFL seasons, when he missed three games and dozens of practices and once collapsed on the practice field. A vaguely described rib issue was cited often when he dropped out for stretches last season. No one outside the team's medical staff fully understands the severity or uniqueness of his issues.

Last summer, the Vikings wanted to retain another receiver but never considered matching the $18.5 million in guarantees the Seattle Seahawks gave to Sidney Rice, whose own injury issues and deteriorating attitude towards the organization had raised red flags internally.

It's a given they'd look to tie Harvin's compensation heavily to performance in any renegotiation, too, although the deals signed by several other temperamental receivers the past year haven't done the team any favors in setting the market.

Most notable, the New York Jets stunned some within the league last July by giving Santonio Holmes $7.25 million in upfront bonuses and $24 million in guarantees on a five-year, $45 million contract negotiated by none other than Segal.

Holmes, 28, was involved in a domestic violence incident in 2006 and arrested in 2008 for marijuana possession, though charges were dismissed in both cases. The Pittsburgh Steelers traded him to the Jets in 2010, when he served a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance policy.

"The money they guaranteed him the first three years with the risk involved -- that was exorbitant," the executive said. "There's not many teams that would have done that, but maybe they felt differently about it."

The biggest receiver signing when unrestricted free agency opened in March was Vincent Jackson, 29, who received $26 million guaranteed on a five-year, $55,555,555 contract despite his age and series of legal issues, including two DUI arrests.

The same week, the Philadelphia Eagles gave DeSean Jackson, 25, a five-year, $48.5 million deal that included $18 million in guarantees. In April, the Carolina Panthers re-signed Steve Smith, 33, for five years and $37.75 million, including $16.75 million guaranteed.

Much to consider

Harvin falls in a somewhat different category because he's known as a space player (albeit an explosive one) whose production must be manufactured to an extent. Receivers get paid to independently beat one-on-one coverage, and scouts have doubts about whether Harvin can do that on an every-down basis through his route-running ability.

Also, Harvin's value in the return game has depreciated because of the altered kickoff rules. Had Harvin gotten his fleeting wish of a trade, the executive guessed he would have yielded a second- or third-round pick -- but it only takes one team desperate enough for a playmaker to establish the market, red flags be damned.

The tiger doesn't change his stripes. It's not easy for people either. Whoever pays Harvin just has to hope he's learned to cope and give themselves an out in case he hasn't.

"That's what I think it comes down to," the executive said, "that if this guy does get a payday, contractual structure, protecting the downside of the club, the character risk involved -- all those things may come into effect.

"The money may sound good on a whole on the front page of the paper, but the minutiae of how the contract gets laid out for the player to get all the money involved, I think that'd be important with a player like Percy Harvin."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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