Let me start this off by answering a question that has become surprisingly recurrent: no, Percy Harvin cannot come back at any point during the post-season. He was placed on IR, and since we used the special ‘designated to return' provision already on Chris Cook, he is out until next season. It has nothing to do with him or the team per se; it's just the NFL rules, plain and simple.
Now then. Since Percy Harvin was injured against the Seahawks and later placed on, again, the season-ending IR list, the Vikings have become surprising (except to Professor Loki) playoff contenders. They struggled at first without him, but to be fair they were struggling also in his last few games. While many predicted that the Vikings passing game would become non-existent, that Adrian Peterson would be stifled by facing unafraid 12-man boxes, and that Christian Ponder would never again throw a completed pass, the Vikings overcame and surged forward late in the season into the NFC's 6th seed.
So do the Vikings need Harvin? No.
Should the Vikings keep Harvin? ABSOLUTELY.
Look, good teams overcome the loss of a major player. In 2008, the Patriots were a good team. While they narrowly missed the playoffs, they did so at 11-5 and without their hands-down best player Tom Brady. But nobody after that season said "well clearly we don't need him, let's trade him away and roll with this Matt Cassel fella." Just because you can get to the playoffs without a great and proven play-maker does not mean you shouldn't keep him around. As dangerous and effective as this surprising Vikings offense has become in his absence, it would only be more so with him around.
‘What-ifs' may be the devil's game, but we can still make educated guesses. The only ‘positive' from Harvin's absence I will entertain is the idea that Ponder, with his security blanket removed, was forced to grow faster. Perhaps it's what has helped him learn to look past his first read, to not trust the ‘dump off', to have more faith in his other receiving weapons. But as this offense has grown, just imagine what could have happened had Harvin been with us against Green Bay. My admonition against ‘what-ifs' aside, we can reasonably presume that the game really wouldn't have been close.
"But Kyle," you say. "Harvin is a locker room cancer." Well, first off, I suppose that the term ‘locker room cancer' is vague and subjective to one's own definition. To me, a locker room cancer is someone who distracts the team from focusing on games, brings down locker room morale, and increases the likelihood of the team quitting. And I honestly have no reason to believe that Harvin would do that. Observe:
Randy Moss, the other mercurial WR that Vikings fans are oh-so well acquainted with, had a major knock on him in that he ‘quit on games'. And I beg of anyone who doesn't want Harvin around anymore to show me game tape of him quitting. Every time he has ever touched the ball, you'd think it was for the game winner in the Super Bowl. The man puts his heart and soul out onto the field every time he lines up, and not when it's ‘just about him'. You'll find plenty of examples of Harvin laying massive blocks on defenders to spring AD (there, happy that I called him by his ‘real nickname'?!) or whatever offensive player has the ball. The man is a team player on the field; how that will translate negatively into the locker room, I'm just not sure. In 2011, Harvin's ghostlike absence from the redzone became a major sticking point for Vikings fans, yet he never complained (unless that was a part of the reason for his off-season tirade, who knows on that one). To me, plain and simple, a guy who plays as hard as Harvin does is not going to hurt the morale of the locker room or instill any feelings of ‘quitting'. If anything, he will be lifting his teammates around him, encouraging them to also play their hearts out.
In terms of distractions, let's look back again at his training camp temper tantrum. While Harvin may not have any BFFs on the Vikings (that's not to say he's disliked however- the truth seems quite the opposite), if anyone's ‘close' to him it has always appeared to be Peterson. Yet when Peterson was asked about Harvin's trade demand and unhappiness, he appeared surprised: he had no clue his teammate was unhappy. While some may take this as being aloof (which, if true, who really cares?), to me it signaled that Harvin didn't walk around unloading his unhappiness on teammates. Which means, regardless of how he feels, he's not likely to become much a distraction.
The one negative thing I could point to in terms of Harvin and the locker room would be his disrespectful attitude. Chain of command is important; if a team leader breaks that down, it could spread. His blow-ups at Leslie Frazier on the sideline and later in the locker room certainly weren't good. But there are two things that mitigate this and, in my opinion, make it a non-factor: Frazier's leadership qualities and the presence of other respected veterans. I have long saluted Frazier for keeping this team in his entire tenure from ever quitting on him: if he can do that, especially in 2011, then he can handle Harvin's insubordination without losing the locker room a la Brad Childress. And even if it did start to become an issue, the presence of other veteran leaders such as Peterson, Jared Allen, and Antoine Winfield would keep that from becoming a major problem. Does Harvin have an attitude problem? I'd say so, to some degree. But I don't see it becoming a ‘cancer', so again- who cares?
Even worse to me than the general idea of unloading Harvin is the perceived trade value that's being floated around. This is a young, dynamic playmaker who was actually overshadowing Adrian Peterson early in the season. And we spent a first rounder on him just a few years ago. Trading him for a second rounder, even a second rounder complimented with other lower picks, just isn't worth it to me. He has immense, generational value as a player: unless we're nabbing an overall top-5 pick, or making some crazy swap like, say, for Larry Fitzgerald, I'm not going to believe we're getting a fair deal. And even in a swap for Fitz I'd want a lower pick tossed in simply because of age.
Sure, the elephant in the room I haven't mentioned is that "durability" issue, but I'm just not buying it. Look, players get banged up, they miss time. He plays hard, and guys who play as hard as he does are going to suffer occasional injuries. Just look at Peterson himself: he injures his ankle to varying degrees roughly once a season. Not to mention that whole ‘need to totally reconstruct that one knee' thing. Aside from his earlier migraine episodes, which seem under control, Harvin's actually been fairly healthy during his tenure with us. He's no Bob Sanders, we shouldn't overreact to the season-ending injury this year.
At the end of the day, Harvin can absolutely be a prima donna. I'm about as happy as the rest of you that he's not on the sidelines during home games rooting for his team. His facebook post rooting on the Gators, with mum on the Vikings at any point in recent history, was also annoying. (Not that there's anything wrong with rooting for your alma mater, mind you, it would just be nice to see him also remember his NFL team is in the playoffs.) If Harvin absolutely just does not want to be a Viking anymore, then that's genuinely one thing. We might as well get what we can when the getting's good (although there would be a great argument on whether we should trade him now, or let him play the beginning of next season to ‘show him off' and try and grab a potentially sweeter trade prior to the deadline). And if Frazier and the other coaches absolutely find him unmanageable, then that too would necessitate his departure.
But otherwise, there is absolutely no logical reason to not pursue a contract extension in the offseason, pay the man commensurate with his worth, and include him in our long-term plans. Because as decent as we've been without him, our offense is much better with him. And since I just don't see him ever being a locker room cancer, then there's no reason to take the purple jersey back from him.