Oct 25, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin (12) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Metrodome. The Buccaneers defeated the Vikings 36-17. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Percy Harvin Got Battered in the Media, and This Was Good for the Vikings

Percy Harvin has been traded to Seattle for three picks, ending a long and convoluted – and painful – saga. It’s worth noting that this trade comes after several weeks of glaringly negative Harvin reports in the media. Just an example: Jason Cole’s unflattering report telling how last year an aggravated Harvin threatened to walk out on the Vikings in a tiff after learning that his former college teammate Aaron Hernandez had received a new contract from New England despite having only two years under his belt. Harvin wanted similar treatment from the Vikings but they were unwilling to accommodate him, and he responded in a fashion that has become familiar to Percy-watchers.

There were more stories than just this of course. Lots more. As the trade drama played out, the picture of Harvin as a gigantic insufferable malcontent got more and more stark. And naturally the trade buzz grew louder as that continued to emerge, ending in Monday’s trade report. My question is simply this. Why did so much stuff come out about Harvin leading up to the deal? Who has been feeding this stuff to the media? And what might their motive have been?

This is just conjecture on my part, but I think this stuff came straight from the top. I think Rick Spielman leaked this stuff to the media as part of a deliberate campaign to paint Percy Harvin as a malcontent who had to be traded for the good of the team.

The Percy picture painted by these reports stood in stark contrast to the portrayal offered by Spielman and others in the Vikings organization via their official media statements. Ask Spielman to his face and he would tell you Percy was a great football player. He would say there was no problem with Percy. He would say there was no “intent” to trade Percy.

But of course executives and coaches never tell the full truth in their public statements. This is the game they play. They always tell you everything is fine. Because what sort of fool rips their own players in public? That would serve no purpose. It would only alienate fans and make other players wary of signing with the team.

It was tricky with a player like Harvin who was such a fan favorite. Spielman certainly knew how much irritation there was in the fanbase over the Harvin talk. People didn’t want Harvin to go. They love what Harvin brings to the field. They love his talent and his physicality and his willingness to put his body on the line. Why shouldn’t they love him? He is a great player.

Simply put, Spielman knew that if he traded the popular Harvin there was going to be fan backlash. Fans were going to be angry at him and the organization for giving away a great player in the prime of his career. So how do you make this bitter pill a little easier for fans to swallow? How do you set things up so you can deflect the backlash?

Easy. You convince everyone the guy is a headache and you need to get rid of him. But you have to do this without directly saying it. So how do you let everyone know what kind of jerk the guy is without calling him a jerk? You leak it through the media. You have your underlings tell Sid Hartman and Jason Cole and Tom Pelissero all this bad stuff about Percy. You get it all out there. You paint the player as a serious head case. Then when you trade him you can say you had no choice.

Even if the team did not leak this stuff deliberately to smear Harvin as I suspect, it still served their purpose to have all this negative reporting getting into the media. Each time a new bad Percy story emerged, more fans got on-board with trading him. There will still be angry fans now that the trade has gone down, but the backlash will be less severe if enough people believe the trade had to be made for the good of the team.

The other question that gets raised of course is about Harvin’s trade value. You could argue it made no sense for the team to leak the bad stories about Harvin because it hurts his value, but the fact is, other teams were already going to know these things. Guys talk to each other behind the scenes. Teams have their own sources of information about each other’s players. Spielman wasn’t really fooling anyone with his public happy talk about Percy but he did it anyway because it was good form and because he didn’t want to be perceived later as having hurt Harvin’s trade value by being impolitic in front of cameras. It’s how that game is played. And Spielman knows how to play it.

So despite what some might argue, it did make sense for the Vikings to leak bad stuff about Harvin. It was a pure PR move on their part. It was about softening the blow when the trade finally happened. And like it or not, the trade had to happen. Talented or not, Harvin had to go. This guy is a massive, massive turd sandwich. He makes Bryant McKinnie look like Nelson Mandela. Now it’s over and we can move on with our lives. With three extra picks over the next two years. And Jarius Wright as the best receiver currently on the roster.

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