By Danny O’Neil
You can’t miss what you never had.
That’s about as close as you can come to finding a bright side of this week’s news that receiver Percy Harvin will be undergoing hip surgery in New York on Thursday.
Harvin was going to be the icing on this offense, not the entrée. The Seahawks were already returning every offensive starter from a team that went unbeaten in December 2012, averaging 38.6 points in those final five games, and Harvin’s absence to begin the season doesn’t change the expectation this team will improve under quarterback Russell Wilson.
But the most worrisome thing about Harvin’s situation is not the question of how Seattle will make up for his absence in the short term, but what this team will get for him in the long term.
This team staked a ton on the belief he would be a difference maker, and to be clear, he still could be. He might even return this season for the final month and be available should Seattle make the playoffs, and he’s got five more seasons on his contract after this one.
But so far, all we have to go on is Harvin’s first week of training camp, which has been a total and unequivocal bummer from the fact he needed a second opinion on the injury to the decision to undergo surgery to the awkward delivery of that news via Harvin’s grammatically challenged Tweet on Tuesday.
The fact that all this happened before he played his first meaningful snap of a six-year, $67 million contract he signed with Seattle doesn’t exactly dispel the concerns that accompanied his arrival after a turbulent tenure in Minnesota. In fact, you have to at least wonder what the Seahawks have gotten themselves into.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should question the severity of the injury. After all, Harvin was working out with the team after signing the deal. He was participating in the offseason training program up until the first week of June when he sat out with what coach Pete Carroll described as a sore hip flexor, and Harvin missed the three-day veteran minicamp, too. When the problem persisted more than a month later when he arrived for training camp, it spoke to the presence of a more severe problem.
And it’s pointless to start wondering whether Harvin was damaged goods when Seattle acquired him. He had missed only three regular-season games in his first three and a half seasons before he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 9 at Seattle last year, an injury that – by the way – he attempted to play through.
Now, that doesn’t mean Harvin is destined to be a disappointment. There’s still plenty of time for Harvin’s acquisition to pay off, and the Seahawks are certainly counting on the fact it will. He accounts for less than $5 million under Seattle’s salary cap this year, a number that balloons to more than $13 million next season.
Harvin’s addition is going to cost Seattle. That’s true in terms of the players it would have chosen with the picks that were traded away, and the money it spent on him instead of retaining one of any number of other young players on the roster, whether it’s a Pro Bowler like cornerback Brandon Browner or receivers like Golden Tate and/or Doug Baldwin, who are free agents after this season.
Seattle doubled down on Harvin because it felt he was that good, and he still might turn out to be. Two years from now, we might all laugh at all the agonizing and hand-wringing that followed Harvin’s first training camp as a Seahawk.
Unlike most injuries in the NFL, the concern is not how Seattle is going to survive in the short term without Harvin. The Seahawks have plenty of options with an offense built around the running game, but they’re returning every one of the five players who caught 20 or more passes last season.
The reason Harvin’s injury is so concerning is not that it will end Seattle’s shot at contention, but the fear that the drama involving the new receiver is only beginning.