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Updated: June 19th, 2012 9:54pm
Zulgad: Timing of Percy Harvin's message couldn't be worse for Vikings

Zulgad: Timing of Percy Harvin's message couldn't be worse for Vikings

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The Twin Cities media witnessed an impressive display on May 30 while the Minnesota Vikings went through a voluntary organized team activity practice.

As teammates took part in drills, Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson decided to race up a hill that is adjacent to one of the practice fields. Harvin was recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs in one of his shoulders and Peterson was continuing his rehab from knee surgery.

Despite the fact they weren't practicing, here were two of the team's top offensive playmakers appearing fully engaged in the Vikings' offseason program. This wasn't the type of thing that happened very often when Brad Childress coached the Vikings, and it seemed to be a step in the right direction for a young team looking for leadership.

Afterward, coach Leslie Frazier discussed that very subject, and there was a feeling the 24-year-old Harvin seemed to understand just how important of role he could play in turning around a team that went 3-13 in 2011.

By Tuesday it was clear those good feelings were gone. What wasn't clear was what had happened in less than a month to change things.

When Harvin was not present at subsequent OTAs the media attended, Frazier simply pointed out the sessions were not mandatory.

But it's now clear that Harvin might have been sending a message by staying away.

He certainly delivered an interesting one Tuesday as the Vikings opened their three-day mandatory minicamp at Winter Park. Pretty much unprompted, Harvin decided to make it clear following the first practice of the day that he isn't happy with his situation and went so far as to threaten to not show up for training camp.

"I'll just put it this way -- it's a lot of different things that have to be sorted out," Harvin said after the morning walkthrough. "Just haven't been real happy lately. So, we've got a couple things to work on. I'm here in the classroom, so we'll go from here."

Harvin declined to go into detail about why he's not happy, although the most obvious answer would be his contract.

Still playing under the rookie deal he received after dropping to the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2009 draft, Harvin is due base salaries of $915,000 in 2012 and $1.55 million in 2013, plus workout bonuses of $27,500 in each year.

Harvin's complaints provided another installment of the type of Winter Park drama to which we long ago became accustomed. But it's also the type of drama the Vikings can ill afford to be saddled with at this point.

No matter how easy you might think the Vikings' 2012 schedule looks, this is still very much a rebuilding franchise that won't have its top running back to open training camp, now might not have its top wide receiver and certainly doesn't need any distractions.

The fact that Harvin brought up the fact he's not happy was a bit of a surprise given that he easily could have just said he was still rehabbing his shoulder and been done with the topic for the remainder of the mincamp.

Instead, Harvin broached a subject he didn't need to broach but said he wanted to keep the rest of the matter in-house. This doesn't exactly serve as an encouraging sign that Harvin is intent on being a leader.

It does serve as a sign that Harvin apparently learned plenty from his good friends and former teammates Randy Moss and Sidney Rice.

There are many Vikings fans that will never toss out their No. 84 Moss jerseys and always will remember him as the ultra-talented player who redefined the wide receiver position during his first go-around with the Vikings from 1998 to 2004.

But the current Vikings brass, including general manager Rick Spielman, will remember Moss as the guy who spent less than a month with the franchise after a 2010 trade with New England and created far more off-the-field problems than anything before he was shown the door.

Moss' main "contributions" in his second go-around in Minnesota included poisoning what had been a pretty good locker room and taking the immensely talented but sometimes volatile Harvin under his wing.

Harvin wasn't happy when Moss was let go -- Harvin and Childress had a blowup only days after Moss' release in which the coach threw Harvin out of practice and the enraged player hurled a weight in Childress' direction -- and people in the know say Moss and Harvin kept in regular contact even after Moss was jettisoned and landed in Tennessee for the remainder of 2010.

Then there was Rice, who had a monster 2009 season in which Brett Favre turned him into a Pro Bowl player. Rice caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards with eight touchdowns in 16 regular-season games and then had 10 receptions for 184 yards with four touchdowns in two postseason games.

Rice, however, suffered a hip injury in the Vikings' overtime loss to New Orleans in the 2009 NFC title game but elected to avoid having surgery. Rice wanted a new contract, the Vikings weren't going to give it to him and that turned into a game of chicken.

Neither side won. Rice did limited work in the Vikings' offseason program in 2010, no work in training camp and then had the surgery performed in late August.

He ended up playing in six games and catching 17 passes for the 6-10 Vikings before departing following the season to sign a five-year, $41 million free-agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks that included $18.5 million guaranteed. (And for that, the Seahawks got all of nine games out of the injury-prone Rice last season.)

So does Moss remain in Harvin's ear? Is Rice telling him to get his money now before an injury possible wipes out a big payday? Is there another factor at work? Perhaps playing time?

Harvin wasn't saying after Tuesday's opening practice and he didn't provide any more clarity following an afternoon session in which he did suit up but did not do anything in the extensive team drills.

"I don't have the answers to any of that," Harvin said when asked about his level of confidence that his issues could be resolved before training camp. "I really don't walk to talk about it other than I did state that it's issues that we'll talk about and we'll see what happens. I just want to answer football questions right now."

Harvin then said he stood by his earlier statements. When asked if this might be contract-related, a member of the Vikings' media relations department cut in and said Harvin was taking only football questions.

That led to one final attempt.

Harvin was asked if he felt he would stand to get more playing time this season, something that was an issue in 2011 when he played only 600 snaps (57.9%) on offense but still had 1,832 total yards on 155 touches. Harvin also grew testy at one point last season when asked about his lack of use on kickoff returns.

"We'll see, we'll see," Harvin said, rolling his eyes.

It wasn't clear if he didn't like the question or he truly was unhappy with his playing time.

Whatever the case, Harvin had provided the Vikings with their latest dose of unnecessary drama and in doing so renewed questions about his commitment to being part of any long-term solution in Minnesota.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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