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Updated: February 13th, 2013 5:00pm
Pelissero: Percy Harvin's contract demands have Vikings in tough spot

Pelissero: Percy Harvin's contract demands have Vikings in tough spot

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

Percy Harvin has the Minnesota Vikings in a pickle, and he knows it.

The whole NFL knows it, which only makes it more challenging to extract value from a dynamic, 24-year-old playmaker who has griped and priced his way towards the trading block, at least for now.

"Everybody thinks they can change guys," a personnel man for another NFC team said this week. "How's he going to be in a winning locker room with a solid quarterback? Stuff like that comes into play, and you begin to walk down that road or think, 'Oh, we could change this guy.'

"But (expletive), be careful, because if (expletive) does go wrong, you know who's going to be the first one up. And this is supposed to be a guy that you're paying as a leader."

Harvin wants more than that, though several factors -- a specialized skill set, a complicated medical history and a well-documented pattern of insubordination -- limit the marketplace for a player who, on talent alone, could practically name his price.

Word circulating in league circles is his agent, Joel Segal, is starting the bidding upwards of $10 million a season, which would make Harvin one of the NFL's 10 highest-paid receivers no matter what Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe command in free agency.

The real goal may be $12 million a year, if not higher -- more than any receiver except All-Pros Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. That kind of compensation is a bigger issue for teams that have discussed a deal for Harvin than the draft pick(s) it'd take to land him.

"He's not a conventional, traditional wide receiver where you line him up outside and he's going to win one-on-ones with the full route tree," an executive in personnel for an AFC team said.

"You've got to kind of manufacture some things to get the ball in his hands, and when you do, he's unique and he can be explosive. But I just don't see him as someone who's worth a number one pick."

Maybe things would be different under the old collective-bargaining agreement, when guaranteed money was skyrocketing and virtually every team in the top 10 was trying to trade out. Now, those first-round draft picks are too cheap and valuable to part with on a gamble.

The executive guessed the Vikings could end up with a second- or third-round pick, plus another pick to sweeten the pot. The personnel man said he thought they'd be lucky to get a third-rounder, considering perception around the league about the Vikings' predicament.

"He's an elite player," an AFC personnel director said. "The thing about him is, if there wasn't the migraines and the attitude stuff and all that, if he was just straight clean and a great guy, they could get the house for him. They could probably get a couple of ones for him. Obviously, a guy of his ability, somebody's going to want to take a shot at him."

Every NFL team deals with one or more players like Harvin. Not many give up a high draft pick and perhaps $25 million in guarantees to actively import someone else's problem when they have young players of their own awaiting paydays, though.

That lends credence to the idea everything to this point -- including Harvin's camp floating word he won't play for the $2.9 million he's due on the last year of his rookie contract -- has been about leverage and reconciliation with the Vikings remains the most likely outcome.

But it's just as possible the Vikings don't believe all the money in the world will make Harvin any happier about the offense and the quarterback and the coaches, leaving them in an even tighter bind if they meet his demands and relationships keep going south.

"They're worried about paying the guy, and they know the guy," the NFC personnel man said. "Well, why would the team that doesn't know him (pay him)?"

The same flags that have plagued Harvin since the 2009 draft are waving again after an inspiring, but tumultuous six months that began with a surprise trade request during June's minicamp and ended with him rehabbing an ankle injury at home in Florida during the Vikings' playoff push.

In between, Harvin delivered an MVP-caliber performance for nine games and had two documented confrontations with mild-mannered coach Leslie Frazier -- one on the sideline in Seattle over frustration with quarterback Christian Ponder and the offense, the other in front of some teammates and staff members at Winter Park.

After all that, re-signing Harvin to the second-richest contract behind Adrian Peterson's $14.38 million-per-year megadeal could send a dangerous message that he's bigger than the team that played some of its best football after his Dec. 5 move to injured reserve.

Harvin long has been respected for his ability and fearless approach, but one veteran teammate who has been Harvin's ally in the past said on Wednesday his volatile personality has become "too big of a problem" to make a major commitment.

"In my mind, it really comes down to whether (Vikings general manager) Rick Spielman, (vice president of football operations) Rob Brzezinski and those guys see Harvin as long-term," said ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt, who was the Green Bay Packers' chief contract negotiator from 1999 to 2008.

"If they don't, we're dealing with a lame-duck year one way or another. If they do, try to create some kind of contractual situation that works for both sides. I don't think anyone doubts that he's a special player. He's a blue (chip) player. The question is, can they live with whatever else that brings in terms of off-field, in terms of infecting anyone in the locker room?"

There also are concerns within the Vikings organization about the rate at which Harvin will age, given his style of play and a variety of health concerns more extensive and complicated than anyone outside the organization knows.

Dealing Harvin for a second-round pick, as unpalatable as that might sound on the surface, would eliminate the headache as well as give the Vikings cash to chase a vertical threat such as Wallace in free agency, and perhaps use that extra pick to keep remodeling the receiver corps.

At the same time, if Harvin were hitting unrestricted free agency, there's a chance he'd get a bigger deal than anyone in the unusually deep "A" tier of receivers likely to hit the market on March 12 -- some of whom may be reluctant to jump into a run-first offense with a young QB.

"He's got more versatility and big-play ability than Bowe," the personnel director said. "He's younger than Jennings. He can get vertical like Wallace can, but Wallace is a real straightline (player) and Percy's got a whole lot more wiggle to him. He's got (Wes) Welker's quickness, but far better speed. Arguably, you can say he might be the top guy of that group."

So, the Vikings figure to bide their time if they're not blown away with an offer, although they have plenty of reason to want resolution one way or another before April's draft.

The only other option is playing a game of chicken, betting that Harvin would sooner show up and play to prove everyone wrong than risk significant fines for holding out during training camp and eventually having to choose between showing up at midseason or having his contract tolled.

"I would assume they'd be making some selective calls that way to see what they can get," the AFC executive said. "But it doesn't mean you have to trade him. They could just gauge the market to see if it's worth trading him."

The ultimate question isn't whether a team would want Percy Harvin, who could elevate any offense in the NFL.

The question is whether a team would want Percy Harvin, who has placed himself in the position where these conversations even need to take place.

"If we pay big money to him knowing that he's not necessarily our type of guy, you're definitely creating a rift in the locker room," the personnel man said.

"I think it's going to take a very special situation. Whether it's a young team or somebody that's close to thinking they're one guy away. I just think it's so frickin' risky. And (expletive), he's one of my favorite players in terms of scouting just to watch."

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.
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