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Updated: April 12th, 2012 11:33pm
Pelissero: Knowing the whole picture, will Vikings pay Percy Harvin?

Pelissero: Knowing the whole picture, will Vikings pay Percy Harvin?

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

Sometime in the next 15 months or so, the Minnesota Vikings must make a decision on Percy Harvin.

Are they willing to pay what it takes to lock up an ascending talent with elite playmaking skills who seemed to mature into a leader by example in his third NFL season?

Or are they concerned enough about Harvin's durability, lifestyle and history of insubordination to let him test what could be a healthy market for his second contract?

Nothing in a recent Sporting News report about his transgressions at the University of Florida surprised the Vikings, who deployed former coach Brad Childress to spend extra time with Harvin and his family days before selecting him 22nd overall in the 2009 draft.

They knew Harvin had failed at least two drug tests. They knew he had a reputation for playing by his own rules. They knew he'd had a run-in of some sort with Gators receivers coach Billy Gonzales, who issued a statement on Tuesday saying the report Harvin grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground was "inaccurate. It didn't happen."

The Vikings took a chance and it paid immediate dividends, with Harvin winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2009. In 45 regular-season NFL games, Harvin has amassed 5,821 total yards and 24 touchdowns. He's only 23 years old, he's a competitor and he's respected in the locker room.

Still, questions persist within the organization about Harvin's reliability, both from the beating his reckless style yields on the field and some troubling, at times manipulative behavior off of it, where he's well-liked but regarded as something of a loner.

During training camp in 2010, Harvin left the team to mourn the passing of his grandmother. When Childress hounded him to return, Harvin became increasingly upset, claimed a flare-up of his long-running migraine troubles and didn't return for 16 days.

That October, the Vikings re-acquired enigmatic receiver Randy Moss, who quickly became Harvin's mentor and closest friend on the team. When the Vikings waived Moss after four games, Harvin helped him move out of his hotel, the two remained in daily contact and Moss repeatedly told Harvin he needed to get Childress fired.

Four days after Moss' release, Childress threw Harvin out of practice, the two had to be separated before things turned physical and the argument carried over to the weight room, where a witness said Harvin hurled a weight at Childress but didn't hit him.

By all accounts, Harvin was different in 2011 under easygoing Leslie Frazier, who included Harvin in the leadership council Frazier formed after the Vikings fired Childress and named him interim coach on Nov. 22, 2010.

Harvin's missed practices dropped from 36 in 2010 to a handful in 2011, although he was limited in plenty of others, mostly from a rib injury that plagued him all season. He played in all 16 games, kept fighting even as the Vikings spiraled to 3-13 and finished with career highs in catches (87), receiving yards (967), rushing yards (345 on 52 carries) and touchdowns (nine).

Now, Harvin is entering the fourth year of his five-year, $12.05 million contract -- a deal structured to include only a $981,500 signing bonus, with a $3.62 million option bonus and $2,158,500 roster bonus due once Harvin proved he was worth the trouble.

Harvin's scheduled base salaries are only $915,000 in 2012 and $1.55 million in 2013, raising the possibility of a holdout at some point if a new deal isn't in place. The Vikings expect him on the field when OTA practices begin this May 29, but surgery to clean out bone spurs in one of his shoulders is on hold while he tends to another family issue.

Frazier has said he wants to get more snaps out of Harvin, who has been on the field for only 59.4% of the Vikings' offensive plays over the past two years. But even a conservative approach to his workload hasn't always kept him in the game.

Harvin's documented history of drug use is another contributing factor to fears a 5-11, 184-pound receiver who does so much of his damage in tight quarters might not hold up over the life of a lucrative contract extension.

There's also the question of how Harvin would react if another down season costs Frazier his job and ushers in a coach who might be less amenable to his preferences. Receivers coach George Stewart, another Harvin confidante, probably would be gone, too.

Would Harvin continue to provide indications he's making strides as a professional? Or would he fall back into old habits -- maybe worse -- once he gets his payday?

Teams are willing to take chances on guys who make plays, which is precisely why the Vikings gambled on Harvin in the first place. General manager Rick Spielman has made clear he wants to rebuild the Vikings roster through a young core on offense, and Harvin's as talented as they get.

But the Vikings know better than anyone the issues surrounding their most dynamic player, and even if Harvin's ascent continues in 2012, the decision on whether to pay what it takes to keep him from testing the market may not be a no-brainer.

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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