February 17, 2013

NFL Notebook: Trading seldom the best option for future plans

The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS - On many Sundays, the Minnesota Vikings have been happy to have Percy Harvin wearing a purple jersey.

These days he represents a dilemma.

The Vikings can try to sign the multi-talented but moody wide receiver to a contract extension before the season begins for the big money he's sure to command. That means making a long-term investment in a player whose punishing running style increases his chance of injury and who has clashed at times with coaches.

They could let the last year of his current contract play out and brace for that potential distraction that comes with that move, risking the possibility he'd hold out of training camp without a new deal.

Or they can try to trade him, even though a top Minnesota executive has made it clear that's not what the team wants to do.

Harvin is a sure-handed, pass catcher who can run effective routes all over the field. He's a speedy yet hard-nosed ball-carrier, capable of lining up as a running back. He's a touchdown-threat kickoff returner. He played so well during the first half of the 2012 season that he was part of the NFL Most Valuable Player award conversation before he badly sprained his ankle.

He will turn only 25 on May 28. Most teams in the league would love to have his diverse skills.

This doesn't mean Minnesota would find it easy to trade Harvin for equal value if he's not included in the future core.

Vikings fans remembering the seventh overall draft choice that Randy Moss fetched from Oakland in 2005 might hope for the same return from Harvin or dream of a deal with Arizona for Larry Fitzgerald, a native of Minneapolis. But the reality of the NFL is headliner trades will likely again be rare once the market opens March 12. Because of the team-to-team differences in schemes, the complications of the salary cap and the precious resource that draft picks have become, this league is not much for wheeling and dealing.

While Harvin might have played his last game with Minnesota, the chance of him continuing his career with the club that made him the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 draft is probably just as good.

"Again, there is no intent to trade Percy Harvin," Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Friday. "He is a very good football player."

Former Indianapolis executive Bill Polian, now an analyst for ESPN, cited a mantra often uttered by former coaches George Allen and Marv Levy.

"Nobody trades you anyone they think can help them," Polian said. "So that's sort of been the ethos of the NFL for a long time. People, unlike basketball and baseball, are inherently wary of making trades. System fit is really, really important, far more than the average fan knows."

Teams that use a 3-4 alignment on defense have less use for a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Teams that prefer a traditional pocket passing game won't want an option-style quarterback.

"It's the same reason, in my opinion, why free agency doesn't work well in the NFL," said Andrew Brandt, a former contract negotiator and salary-cap manager in Green Bay who's now an NFL business analyst for the National Football Post website and ESPN. "Players have to fit in with 10 other independent parts, and it's just not seamless like it is in basketball or baseball. If you're a baseball pitcher, you go from one team to another and you do the exact same thing. If you're a linebacker, you go from one team to another and you're not doing the same thing, even though you may think you are."

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