Why the Percy Harvin Trade May have been Good for the Jets and Seahawks

(Updated, 10-27-14)

In a surprise move, the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets agreed to trade wide receiver and kick returner Percy Harvin to the Jets, in return for a conditional 2015 draft pick. First reported yesterday, the Jets announced the trade today.

Harvin, who had already been traded once to Seattle, was considered to be temperamental and thus somewhat of a headache for the his former team, the Minnesota Vikings. And the suspicion was that he had simply become too much trouble for the focused Seattle team, as well. (And as ESPN reports, several sources have confirmed this was in fact the case.)  reported that and according to ESPN confirmed by several sources have confirmed such suspicions

This disappointment with Harvin on the part of Seattle would make sense, because depending on performance thresholds, the Jets only gave up what will be either a 4th or 6th round draft choice. That’s not very much for a player of Harvin’s caliber.

In contrast, the Seahawks gave up 1st and 7th round draft picks that same year (2013), and a 4th round pick for this year, when they traded for him earlier in 2013.

Temper-mentality issues notwithstanding, that trade, for the Seahawks, almost seemed worth it at the time (salary numbers, discussed below, aside): Although Harvin had only played 9 games in 2012 before succumbing to injury, he still led the team in receptions and yards receiving; his 5 kick returns for TDs led the NFL since entering the league as a rookie in 2009 after being drafted 22nd overall (and winning Offensive Rookie of the year honors); and since 2009 had amassed a whopping 7168 all purpose yards.

He is a dynamic player, with serious ability.

But then he got hurt in the first game of the 2013 season, briefly rejoined the team, then made it back for the playoffs. (Where, in turn, he lit it up for the Seahawks in their blowout of the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII – with a 5 yard catch, 2 runs for 45 yards, and another long kick return for a TD.)

He’s been healthy this year, but hasn’t been as much of a factor; and all in all, has played in only 8 games for Seattle.

The Seahawks also really haven’t found a way to sufficiently integrate him into their offense. Given Harvin’s enormous salary numbers and the reported cohesion issues, the team may have not been real far off from releasing him after this season. (Harvin even had a pretty significant alteration – that the Seahawks smartly kept under wraps to avoid media distractions – with a fellow wide receiver shortly before the Super Bowl last year.)

The original deal as reported by CBS sports, was for 6 years and $67 million, with a $12.5 million signing bonus, along with the first year’s base salary of $2.5 million, and another 11 million guaranteed. (Although some sources have reported it slightly differently). It’s unclear how much the Seahawks have paid out so far (while attempts on this end to get details from the NY Jets were met with a non contract disclosure statement), but presumably have paid him his base salary through week 7 of this season, and the normally up front signing bonus money.

And, as Overthecap.com reports, Seattle should save $6.47 million in salary cap space this year that can now be rolled over into next;and while they’ll still take another $7.2 million salary cap hit next year in “dead money” (which means money that counts against the cap but is applied to players not on the roster), but which will still be $5.7 below what it would have been had the team kept Harvin.  (Thus by letting Harvin go, the Seahawks would presumably free up a total of $11.17 million in cap space for next year, if in fact the savings on the rest of this year’s salary to him – which will now be paid by the Jets – does roll over.)

The same Overthecap piece also offers a decent critique of the original trade based upon draft picks plus salary plus potential cohesion issues. (While Gregg Rosenthal, for example, also reasonably enough, argued over at NFL.com at the time that it was a good move.)

And the trade is also acknowledgement of a mistake on the part of the Seahawks. But as former Redskins and Texans General Manager Charley Casserly pointed out yesterday on “Around the NFL,” that is a good thing: Recognizing, correcting, and moving on. Making calculated moves and continually re assessing, is part of what has made them such a strong franchise under head coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider.

What about on the Jets side of the equation?

Some commentators on the NFL network expressed puzzlement over the Jets move, in the sense of Harvin’s history of disgruntlement, questions about his dedication, and the fact that the Seahawks, who seem to know what they are doing, were willing to part with such a dynamic player. (Not to mention that after four extremely valuable seasons with the team, the Vikings dealt him away as well – although, and this is important, they did pick up significant draft pick compensation, and were looking at either losing him to free agency at the end of last year, or competing with the rest of the NFL to resign him at a wildly higher price than under his rookie contract.)

But the move made a lot of sense for the Jets.

First, they have little to lose. They are 1-6, and, although I think Rex Ryan has done a good job with a team that may not have sufficient talent level, there is talk of him being fired at the end of this season. (For the record, I don’t believe he will be.)

It will also cost the Jets less, not just in draft picks, but also in dollars – and in particular, guaranteed dollars – The Seahawks (apparently) paid Harvin 12.5m in guaranteed, plus another couple of million in base last year, and a much larger prorated base salary this year that the Jets will simply pick up; with thus on their part no bonus at all (apparently), nor guaranteed money paid out past this season.

While Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is certainly one of the more easy going coaches (his players, affectionately, have even referred to the enthusiastic and youthful acting Carroll – who just turned 63 – as a 25 year old), Rex Ryan has a particular way of connecting with players, and he may smooth out Harvin’s temperament. And, although this seems to work better with attempts to accomplish something, not change seeming character issues, it’s also possible that the “third time’s the charm.”

If Harvin doesn’t become more of an off the field cohesive member of the team or otherwise perform on it, it’s no no big loss, because there isn’t much to distract the Jets from. They are 1-6, and, barring a remarkable turnaround and some luck, are already all but out of the playoff picture before the season is half way over.

Second, the Jets, again, may have a talent deficit. This seems particularly to be the case at wide receiver.  And this is a position where, given his past performances, there is no reason to think that despite his outstanding ability as a kick returner and pseudo running back on sweeps and the like out of the backfield, Harvin couldn’t be close to a full time contributor.

Or at least much more of a contributor than he was at Seattle, where he didn’t see a lot of playing time relative to his enormous salary, and, one would think, skill set: as the fact is, he is simply a phenomenal athlete, and dangerous to opposing teams with the ball in his hands.

Thus the addition of Harvin to the Jets may represent a much bigger “improvement” for them than he represented for the Seahawks.

Remember, in college, a guy named Geno Smith, who just happens to be the Jets QB now, ran a near remarkable offensive passing machine with wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, including a lot of yards after the catch for Austin working with Geno. And Harvin may be able to do the same. (As discussed in this piece, also linked to below, Austin and Bailey were both very questionably drafted by the same NFL team in 2013, which even included an ill advised trade up in the 1st round to get Austin.)

If Harvin can somehow be a dedicated teammate, it’s highly possible that he could become a big factor in both the Jets offense, and their overall game.

In other words, given the Jets seeming talent dearth, the small amount they gave up for a player of Harvin’s proven and fairly unique ability, and the fact that the Jets are already somewhat bad to begin with, there is probably a lot more upside than downside here. And if they get worse and the teams’ commitment to playing hard under Ryan suffers, then the argument to clean house, already potentially present, only strengthens.

Fourth, in kind of a bizarre move for a team that really needed better players (but then I believe there is significant room for improvement in the strategic thinking of many NFL General Managers), the Jets also had plenty of excess salary cap space they had been saving – over $20 million.

Not only that, aside from this year’s salary – essentially meaningless for cap purposes because the Jets are well under it and still have sufficient room left – the Jets can elect to let Harvin go at the end of the season if it doesn’t work out, because it is only through the end of this season that Harvin’s contract is guaranteed.

So a move that doesn’t work out can’t hurt the Jets much here, and won’t cost them at all in terms of their salary cap (unlike many other bad moves by many NFL teams, which sometimes cost a small fortune). And, with the draft pick they are giving up being of a conditional nature, it won’t be an early round pick if Harvin winds up not contributing very much, but a 6th rounder. And even if he does contribute more, it’s still only a 4th rounder.

It remains to be seen what happens. And the Jets have made some strange big name acquisitions in the past – the most notable of which was picking up Tim Tebow a few years ago to come in and run a “wildcat” on a play here or there; A move which – although with the remarkable and repeated late game comeback skill Tebow showed in Denver it also makes little sense for Tebow to be completely out of football – made little sense for the Jets at the time for a number of reasons.

But there is a decent to very good chance that this Harvin cat contributes to the Jets, and possibly, if some sort of connection can be established between him and Geno, in a big way on the field, for a team that really needs it.

We’ll see. But it’s an interesting NFL storyline.  So stay tuned for the unfolding saga of Rex – still somewhat of an underrated coach – and the Jets.

Even if Rex does have a secret crush on his division nemesis Tom Brady:



Update, 10-24-14:  It’s only been a few days, but so far the Harvin trade, in addition to having made a lot of sense, “on paper,” seems like a good fit for the Jets, as Harvin, has sounded genuine and ebullient in his enthusiasm for being a part of his new team.

More notably, in the original piece above, there is a small piece of implicit criticism for the Jets retention of over $20 million in cap space for the 2014 season. One key point left out, as an interesting article by Bill Barnwell at Grantland notes, is that the Jets can roll over all unused cap space to the following season.

Aside from the actual dollar savings, this prevents the lack of salary cap usage from otherwise being a total waste for a team not otherwise using it in any given season. But while there are a few advantages of rolling over cap space, there are significant disadvantages as well. Particularly when it is a large amount.

While leaving some funds for mid season pick ups is sensible, they don’t normally involve players of Harvin’s caliber, and salary.  Yet even with this unusually large and essentially unexpected amount – which is for the duration of Harvin’s salary for this year and amounts to $6.47 million, all of which will be charged to the Jets against the cap this year – the Jets will still be rolling over nearly another $18 million in salary cap numbers to next year.

This issue, including some of Barnwell’s arguments on why the Jets large cap hoarding makes sense, and some points on why it probably really didn’t, are discussed further here.


4 thoughts on “Why the Percy Harvin Trade May have been Good for the Jets and Seahawks

  1. Pingback: Some Week 7 NFL Picks, and Rex Ryan’s Favorite NFL Player « NFL Football Strategy

  2. Pingback: Percy Harvin, on his new Head Coach: “I Love ‘em Love ‘em « NFL Football Strategy

  3. Pingback: Some Analysis on the New York Jets Excess Salary Cap Space and Rollover « NFL Football Strategy

  4. Pingback: Week 9 NFL Picks Against the Spread « NFL Football Strategy

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