The narrative when a talented but troubled player gets traded is always fascinating to me. The discourse goes something like this: I don’t care how talented he is, he’s not worth the headache.
We’re hearing the same about triple-threat wideout Percy Harvin, who was conditionally traded from the Vikings to the Seahawks on Monday. During his four seasons in Minnesota, he battled with coaches, threatened holdouts and demanded to be traded. When Minnesota finally complied with the latter, the immediate reaction among some was: Good riddance, you’re not worth the headache.
That kind of thinking and close-mindedness always makes me laugh and think of players like Charles Haley, Randy Moss and Corey Dillon, among others. They were supposed to be franchise-killers, too self-absorbed to check their ego and be team players, yet each became central figures in title runs (or near-runs) with their new teams.
Haley, a defensive end/outside linebacker, was so high maintenance in six seasons with the 49ers that they traded him to Dallas despite his contributions to two Super Bowl wins and his four seasons with double-digit sacks. San Francisco instantly realized it got the worst of the deal, as Haley was a key figure in the Cowboys winning three of the next four Super Bowls while the 49ers managed only one title without him.
Moss, the game’s best deep threat, was a pain in the rear-end in Minnesota and Oakland, both of which grew so fed up with his antics that they traded him away. During his three full seasons with the Patriots, Moss became a pain in the backside of every opponent, catching 250 passes for 3,765 yards and 47 touchdowns and in 2007 helping New England to the first 16-0 regular season in league history.
Dillon, a surly and bruising running back, was considered a malcontent during his seven seasons with Cincinnati. But he was low-maintenance and high-production after being traded to the Patriots, rushing for a franchise-record 1,635 yards and helping them win the Super Bowl in 2004. He spent three seasons with New England and had at least 12 touchdowns rushing in each.
There are more examples, but hopefully you get the picture. That’s not to say that every talented but temperamental player is worth the problem, but you have to look deeper than the headlines. What was going on with his former team? What kind of structure will be in place with his new team?
Certain lines have stuck with me over my nearly two decades covering the league, and one of them was provided by Reuben Davis, the massive former defensive tackle with the Chargers. Davis had a loud, commanding baritone, but it was those times when he barely spoke above a whisper that really got my attention. Like when he told me: “You need some a–holes in your locker room.”
He wasn’t referring to the 52nd and 53rd men on the roster; he was referring to front-line players. Character and choir boys are fine, but football isn’t played in pews. You need guys with some dawg in them. Lawrence Taylor was a pain, but he also was a dominant performer. Ronnie Lott also could be disruptive because of his willingness to challenge coaches and owners. Again, a dominant player.
If the stories behind the scenes are true, Harvin definitely is high maintenance. But he’s also worth the risk. He’s a potentially lethal threat as a receiver, returner and runner. Until an injury sidelined him for the final seven games last season, he was in the conversation for league MVP. He’s that good. Only the football illiterate would measure his contributions by statistics, as some have done in pointing out that he has never had a 1,000-yard season as a receiver. That’s like seeing the trees instead of the forest. Some of that has to do with the Vikings’ instability at quarterback, or maybe I missed it and receivers are now throwing the ball to themselves.
And please don’t tell me Harvin is injury prone. Contrary to this popular perception, he has missed more than two games in a season just once in his career and 10 overall. I might be wrong, but that doesn’t translate to fragile in my dictionary.
Seattle knows it is on the cusp of being a championship contender. It has 11 draft picks this year, and there’s no guarantee that the player it would have selected 25th overall and at the bottom of the seventh round, as well as a conditional mid-round pick next year — the reported compensation for Harvin — would’ve provided the impact that Harvin might this year.
My narrative on this deal, should it come to fruition, goes something like this: Seahawks fans should love it, love it, love it! I know I do.
BANKS: Fortune should favor bold Seahawks again