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Updated: September 29th, 2012 7:39pm
Pelissero: Percy Harvin won't get Megatron money, but price is rising

Pelissero: Percy Harvin won't get Megatron money, but price is rising

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Percy Harvin won't get Calvin Johnson money on his next contract, but if he keeps producing like this, the price will only go up.

In March, the Detroit Lions gave Johnson an eight-year, $132 million contract extension that included $53.25 million in guarantees. The $16.2 million average per year in new money remains the highest ever for a non-quarterback and fifth-highest overall.

The rest of the top five receivers includes Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald ($16.1 million per year), Chicago's Brandon Marshall ($11.2 million), Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson ($11.1 million) and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson ($9.7 million).

More than 50 other names -- from franchise players Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker ($9.5 million each) to Brad Smith, Lavelle Hawkins and Ben Obomanu -- come before Harvin, who is in the fourth year of a five-year rookie contract that averages $2.285 million per.

"I have no clue what Calvin Johnson makes," Harvin said with a smile this past week. "It's not on my thought process. I told you -- this year, I just wanted to win."

For the Minnesota Vikings to do that, though, they need all the production they can get from Harvin, who has a strong claim right now to being the NFL's most dangerous man with the ball in his hands and may get paid accordingly sooner than later.

Entering Sunday's game against Johnson and the Lions, Harvin leads the league in receptions (27) and is on pace for more than 1,700 combined rushing and receiving yards despite seeing more attention from defenses than ever before.

"Obviously, they're very different players," Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said of Harvin and Johnson, the two-time All-Pro who leads the league in receiving yards (369) and explosive gains (nine catches of 20 yards or more).

"Calvin's a big part of their offense as well. If you had to ask me which one I would take, I don't know."

Johnson, 27, has a tight end's size (6-foot-5, 236 pounds) coupled with 4.3-range speed and such incredible athleticism he registered a 42½-inch vertical at his 2007 pro day workout on Georgia Tech's campus.

Harvin, 24, is a 5-11 ball of dynamite who makes up for lack of detail in his route-running with a knack for turning long handoffs into gains and a willingness to barrel into anything in his path.

"We use (Harvin) in so many different ways," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "But Detroit uses Calvin a lot of different ways as well. It's hard sometimes to find him. He's outside. He's inside. They move him around.

"The way they get their catches and the way they get their yards are a little bit different. But they both are MVPs on their team for sure."

That Harvin mostly has stayed healthy while playing 74% of the Vikings' offensive snaps so far -- up from 57.9% last season -- only contributes to the rise in his value if he is able to sustain it over the course of the season.

He is the starting flanker but lines up all over, including 13 times in the backfield so far. He can expose a defense's call just by going in motion. He is getting double-teamed repeatedly in the red zone and on third down. He's averaging only 10.3 yards per reception, but 15 of them (55.6%) have gone for first downs, and he's averaging 30 yards on eight kick returns, too.

Harvin revived a history of character concerns with his outburst and fleeting trade demand at June's minicamp. It's no secret within the organization he expects a new contract before next season, when he's due just $1.55 million in base salary unless he unlocks escalators.

But the word is Harvin's attitude has been superb since he reported to training camp, and he has made no secret about his affinity for the way second-year coordinator Bill Musgrave is utilizing the Vikings' playmakers.

"This year, I'm just more comfortable with my life on and off the field," Harvin said. "I'm in better condition that I've ever been. I just did all the little things that I thought that I kind of got away from my first years."

He continues to play at around 190 pounds -- down from 200 the past couple of years, because he felt he had lost some flexibility and explosion.

He admits he probably spent too much time lifting weights and wanted to regain the elusiveness he had at the University of Florida.

"I noticed I'm back at my speed, but I'm still even stronger (while) lighter than I was heavier," Harvin said. "I took time to look into my own body and dissect me. It's been great for my migraines, and everything is just falling in line."

What would a new-and-improved Percy Harvin be worth to the Vikings?

They figure to take another 13 games to analyze the issue and make sure Harvin holds up. And it's a safe bet they'll protect themselves by tying up as much money as possible in incentives and escalators.

One other complication is it's tough to compare Harvin's production to the other receivers, given he goes about getting it in such a unique way. Teams generally pay for the ability to consistently beat one-on-one coverage.

On the other hand, Harvin is the only receiver the Vikings have right now who poses a matchup threat, pending speedy split end Jerome Simpson's post-suspension debut on Sunday.

"Wherever (Harvin) is, wherever he gets it, in the backfield, reverses, smoke screens, all that stuff," an executive in personnel for another NFL team said. "That's the guy that we want 11 guys to the ball on."

If Harvin's agent, Joel Segal, wants to land his client a top-10 contract, that would mean selling Harvin amidst the likes of Green Bay's Greg Jennings ($9.2 million average), Dallas' Austin Miles ($9 million) and the New York Jets' Santonio Holmes ($9 million).

The next tier is topped by Atlanta's Roddy White ($8.5 million) and Washington's Pierre Garcon ($8.5 million), for whom the Vikings made a strong push in March. Then comes Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown ($8.4 million), Baltimore's Anquan Boldin ($8.3 million) and Seattle's Sidney Rice ($8.2 million), and it's tough argue those players mean more to their respective teams.

"Percy's the best player in the NFL right now," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway told reporters recently. "I'd like to see anybody challenge that with the way he's carrying the football and the way he's really driving our team along."

For his part, Harvin is deflecting most questions about his contract and his role by praising the direction of the team as it heads into Ford Field with a chance to equal last season's win total in just four games.

Johnson and his goldplated hands will be waiting.

"Three and 13 left a nasty taste in my mouth," Harvin said. "I hate losing. That just makes a lot of stuff go wrong. I think I speak for a lot of people -- losing sucks. As long as we're winning, I'm happy."

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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