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Updated: December 20th, 2012 5:02pm
Pelissero: Percy Harvin's injury was legitimate, but future uncertain

Pelissero: Percy Harvin's injury was legitimate, but future uncertain

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Concerns about Percy Harvin's ankle began to escalate on Dec. 3, when a workout with the Minnesota Vikings' athletic trainers showed the dynamic receiver still wasn't making the progress he or the team hoped.

It had been 29 days since Harvin suffered a complete ligament tear in the ankle -- an injury that can take four to six weeks to completely heal -- in a Nov. 4 loss at Seattle and he wasn't getting closer to being able to push off or turn properly.

Harvin didn't need surgery, but the Vikings ended his season two days later, placing him on injured reserve. Coach Leslie Frazier said the injury was the only factor in the decision. Harvin said the same in a statement issued through the team.

That hasn't stopped rumors from spreading in the locker room and league circles about the nature of a talented, but notoriously volatile player's abrupt departure from a team in the midst of an unlikely playoff push.

It started in that game at Seattle, where TV cameras caught Harvin waving his arms and screaming at Frazier on the sideline over his frustration with the Vikings' struggling offense.

According to four NFL sources, Harvin and Frazier had another heated exchange weeks later in front of some players and staff members, fueling speculation about a deteriorating relationship that could spell the end of Harvin's four seasons in Minnesota.

Details of that altercation remain clouded, though it is believed to have begun in the training room at the Vikings' facility. There's no question Harvin was frustrated with the ankle not coming around.

The incident was sufficiently impassioned some inside and outside the building believed that, and not the ankle, was the driving force behind Harvin's trip to IR.

In reality, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, discussions already were underway with Harvin's agent, Joel Segal, about making a decision both sides believed was in the best interest of the player and the team based strictly on the injury.

Instead of risking further injury that could have long-term consequences, Harvin would continue treating the injury immediately near his home in Florida, where he rehabbed from shoulder surgery in the spring and would be heading after the season anyway.

And the Vikings would turn their full attention to chasing a wild-card playoff berth -- a pursuit that continues on Sunday at Houston without a player who was a darkhorse MVP candidate before the ankle stopped him after nine games.

Frazier declined comment for this story through a team spokesman. Segal has not returned several messages since Harvin's injury.

It's no secret the Vikings must make a decision on Harvin's future after the season. He privately made clear as far back as last summer he expects a new contract to replace the final year of his rookie deal and is unlikely to show up on time for training camp without one.

Harvin has to make a decision, too, on whether he wants to try to stay in Minnesota for the long haul or revive the fleeting trade request he made during the team's June minicamp -- although there's no guarantee the Vikings would comply.

That depends in part on what long-term damage, if any, has been done with Frazier, whose strongest personality trait is his ability to deal with problems in a calm manner, as he did during the sideline blowup in Seattle.

In a backwards way, the incidents that preceded Harvin's trip to IR -- like the unexpected trade request that disappeared after talks with Frazier -- actually might carry less weight because he is so emotional and the Vikings have dealt with worse before.

They knew he had a history of manipulation and insubordination at the University of Florida, so they deployed then-coach Brad Childress to spend extra time with Harvin and his family before selecting him 22nd overall in the 2009 draft.

In November 2010, Childress accused Harvin of dogging it on another ankle injury and threw him out of practice. The two had to be separated and the altercation carried over to the weight room, where a witness said Harvin hurled a weight in Childress' direction.

That incident came four days after the release of veteran receiver Randy Moss -- one of few players Harvin, 24, is known to have grown particularly tight with during his four seasons in Minnesota. And it's not the only maintenance issue the Vikings have dealt with.

Harvin's first two seasons were plagued with missed practices the team attributed to migraines. He once passed out on the practice field from an allergic reaction to medication, and his medical situation is more unique and complicated than most anyone outside the building knows.

By all accounts, though, Harvin showed signs of maturity last season and was healthy and on his best behavior when training camp began this year. He racked up 60 catches for 667 yards and five total touchdowns through the season's midway point.

Then came the ankle injury, which Harvin played through after getting retaped in Seattle. He missed the following week's game against Detroit but told reporters on Nov. 21 he felt "like I'm ready for this next stretch. I should be good."

Harvin never made it through a full practice again and was placed on IR two weeks later. Left with no starting-caliber receivers on the roster in the middle of a playoff chase, Frazier nonetheless said the decision "helps all of us."

Those words provided one more clue for those who believe the Vikings are preparing to trade Harvin in the offseason, with the possible return pegged by one NFL personnel man as a second- or third-round draft pick.

Unlike Childress, who was fired 17 days after the practice incident, Frazier's job appears safe. The Vikings have rebounded from 3-13 last season to 8-6, putting Frazier in line for his own contract extension with one year left on his current deal.

Players as talented as Percy Harvin aren't easy to find. Plus, he's a competitor. No matter what happens the other six days of the week, he wants to play on Sundays. That's why the Vikings were willing to take a chance on him in the first place.

Any long-term deal they'd offer him likely would lean heavily on performance-based incentives and escalators, protecting them in the event the off-field issues eventually become too much to handle.

As it stands now, though, the Vikings are concentrating on the playoff push, Harvin is concentrating on rehab and both have plenty to sort out come January.

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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