As news of Percy Harvin's potential availability ricochets through the NFL, we've seen widespread doubt about his value on the trade market. Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com reports that the best the Minnesota Vikings could do is a second-round draft pick, while an NFL executive told NFL.com's Ian Rapoport that he would be shocked if the Vikings do better than a third-round pick.
I don't doubt those assessments. It's awfully difficult to get a first-round pick for a player who isn't a quarterback, a pass-rusher or a cornerback. General manager Rick Spielman has proved he can create a trade market, but he'll have a tough task in creating the bidding war necessary to push Harvin's value into the first round. The situation is further complicated by Harvin's contract situation, which almost certainly must be resolved before any trade occurs.
There is a difference, of course, between getting the best value you can for a player and receiving value that adequately compensates you for the loss. I have no doubt that Spielman and Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings' vice president of football operations, would get the best deal available for Harvin. But if that proves to be a second- or third-round draft pick? To me, that would be an irresponsible trade by the Vikings. They would have allowed eccentric behavior and a historically improbable stretch of games to cloud their team-building judgment.
As we've discussed before, Harvin has no doubt been a high-maintenance personality from the moment the Vikings drafted him in 2009. That's one of the reasons he was available to them at the No. 22 overall pick that year.
Like it or not, part of building a winning team is finding a balance between expectations for personal deportment and the reality that not everyone is a choir boy. We might think it is each player's responsibility to act the right way, but in truth, the best teams provide a padded buffer around a circumference of behavior, one that allows for unique people to be different within the confines of the team concept. Think of the gutter guard that children use in bowling. The ball might bounce from one side to the other, but the guard prevents it from going too far.
There have been murky reports about confrontations between Harvin and various authority figures behind the scenes, including a reported argument with coach Leslie Frazier -- a man who almost never loses his temper. Nothing I've heard to this point suggests Harvin has done enough to, in essence, get himself fired. If he has, the Vikings have kept that information well under wraps.
Based on what we know at this moment, it's the Vikings' responsibility to find a way to make it work. They are a team in need of more receiving firepower, not less. And let's not suggest the Vikings didn't miss a beat last season after Harvin's injury. To me that's a short-term, flawed and irresponsible judgment as well.
It's true that tailback Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,140 yards over the Vikings' final seven games, after Harvin's season-ending ankle injury. But I hope you realize that MVP performance is a clear outlier; the only running back in NFL history to gain more yards after Week 10 of a 16-game season was Eric Dickerson -- who had exactly 2 more yards (1,142) during his record-breaking 1984 season.
We have learned not to doubt Peterson, who has said he thinks he can rush for 2,500 yards in 2013. But to count on it as part of a long-term strategy is foolish. I have to assume the Vikings know how much added value Harvin provides their offense. He is quite simply one of the NFL's best individual playmakers.
Let's also recognize that some of this issue has almost assuredly arisen from a difference in opinion on Harvin's financial value. If he is one of the NFL's best playmakers, Harvin could make an argument that he deserves elite money at his primary position. The Vikings might counter that he is more of a hybrid player who doesn't measure up financially to, say, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
That, however, is a traditional contract-leverage argument that usually gets resolved in the NFL. The vast majority of elite players are re-signed, even if that event is preceded by a holdout and extended acrimony. It's rare that you see a player of Harvin's stature traded purely because of a contract dispute when there are no underlying factors involved.
You might not consider it fair, but I'm putting the responsibility on the Vikings to smooth over those factors and accept that, in most cases, building good teams means navigating rough edges.
The only justifiable reason for giving away Percy Harvin, which is what the Vikings would be doing if they trade him for a second- or third-round draft choice, is the existence of previously unreported incidents so heinous that his continued employment would be a net negative on the team and franchise. Nothing we've heard to this point suggests that's the case. It's hard enough to win championships in the NFL. Doing so when you give away one of your best players? Good luck.