So far, the rumors have come hot and heavy, with neither side – the Vikings nor Harvin – adding much clarity to the situation. Let's try to take stock of the situation as best we can before free agency (really) starts on Tuesday:
First, the known quantities:
At that number, there is no doubt Harvin is underpaid relative to the top receivers in the game today. Two of the top free-agent receivers that signed in the last two years – Vincent Jackson with Tampa Bay and Dwayne Bowe with Kansas City – are averaging about $11 million per year in their contracts.
Now for the unknowns and gray areas, many of them corresponding to the known factors:
It doesn't end there for Harvin. You can't discuss his value without incorporating the additional duties he provides, creating matchup issues if he is the third receiver on the field and then motions into the backfield for a carry. Still, he is at his most dangerous as a kickoff returner, and the Vikings finally used him in that full-time role when he was healthy. Given his dynamic dimension there, he could be worth more than Bowe and Jackson, or at the least make up for what he lacks by not being an outside receiver that can be a jump ball threat in the red zone.
Now, however, there are is an undertone in the reports/rumors that his contract is an issue. Frankly, that makes more sense than talk about his role or others in the offense – after all, he was the league-leading receiver eight games into the season and consistently maintains that he wants the ball as much as possible (within reason).
Up until this point, the Vikings were justified in waiting on an extension. Many of their biggest stars have approached the final year of their contract before getting an extension – that was the case with Chad Greenway, who signed a big-buck deal five months after receiving the franchise tag. If the Vikings follow a similar timeline with Harvin, they would sign him to an extension in late August or early September if they don't further poke the irritated bear by threatening a franchise tag on him.
The timing of it all, however, has been thrown into a frenzy by the continued reports of consternation, and both sides have a hammer.
Ultimately, Harvin is under contract for the 2013 season and the Vikings could play hardball. That wouldn't be the wise play, however. Harvin could elect to hold out (risking fines and lost wages) and become more pain than production by bending the ears of the younger, impressionable players the wrong way. He could then return on time to avoid losing an accrued season and become an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
Worse yet, he would have an axe to grind and the Vikings couldn't control where he lands short of a franchise tag (think another NFC North team wouldn't love to have him?).
For those myriad reasons the Vikings are best-served by getting some clarity and resolution in the next six weeks – before the draft. They don't have to make a decision before they know what they have in free agency, but there is no use waiting beyond the draft unless they know for certain Harvin and the team can reach an accord with a viable contract for both sides.
Over the last few months, general manager Rick Spielman has said he has no intent of trading Harvin, Harvin has declined comment, and head coach Leslie Frazier has said he and Harvin can co-exist peacefully. But if Harvin can't get along with Frazier, there aren't many coaches he will find to suitable to him and it won't matter if Spielman truly had "no intent" of trading Harvin – the issue could be forced.
Ultimately, the Vikings were 5-2 without Harvin and 5-4 with him last year. What could they be with Adrian Peterson at full strength for a full season and Harvin pacified?
Harvin has been electric player to watch, but the Vikings will go on without him, if necessary. The Vikings don't have to make a move in the next week, but they will be best-served to have the saga beyond them one way or another before they enter the draft.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.