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The True Cost Of The Harvin Trade


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The true cost of the Harvin trade

Week 7 takeaways: Harvin deal hurts Seattle's repeat chances; ATL in trouble

Originally Published: October 20, 2014By Mike Sando | ESPN Insider

AP Photo/Alex BrandonThe Percy Harvin trade came as a shock to the Seattle Seahawks team.

Recent Super Bowl champions that failed to repeat the following season have typically fit into a certain category: They were lower-seeded teams during the season in which they won it all, having gone on a run and hit their stride at the right time. For them to come back down to Earth the following season wasn't all that surprising, seeing as how it wasn't as though they dominated during the season they took home the title.

But the 2013 Seattle Seahawks had a different look than those champs. They were only the third top seed to win it all since divisional realignment a dozen years ago. One of the two other top-seeded champs repeated (New England). This Seahawks team re-signed cornerstone players during the offseason and stood to become more dynamic offensively in 2014 with a healthy Percy Harvincontributing.

That was the plan, anyway.

All bets are off now that the trade that brought Harvin to Seattle has become an expensive failure, capped Friday by the Seahawks' trading him to the Jets for as little as a sixth-round pick. Now, there should be no overreaction to the Seahawks' 28-26 defeat in St. Louis on Sunday, which bore similarities to a 2012 loss there. A 3-3 record isn't necessarily a killer, either -- not with five NFC West games still on the schedule. But unfortunately for the Seahawks, the Harvin-related problems run deeper than a Week 7 defeat or a snapshot of the standings. There are long-term ramifications that have lengthened their odds for a championship repeat.

The Harvin fallout is significant enough to knock the Seahawks back into the pool of teams scratching and clawing from week to week. That's where we begin this run through 10 takeaways from Week 7, a list that includes perspectives on the Brandon Marshall-Jay Cutler situation in Chicago as well.

1. The Harvin trade is bigger than the trade itself.

The Friday trade sending Harvin from the Seahawks to the Jets isn't going to hurt them on the stat sheet, as Harvin was trending in the wrong direction that way. He left Seattle with 322 yards receiving, 146 rushing, 428 in the return game and two touchdowns in eight games. The passing game looked better without him Sunday as Russell Wilson became the first player in league history with 300 yards passing and 100 rushing in the same game.

The problem is that Seattle put together this 2014 team with Harvin and his massive contract restricting its ability to improve the roster. His deal was counting $13.4 million against the Seahawks' salary cap when they were deciding whether free agents Golden Tate, Breno Giacomini, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Walter Thurmond III and Brandon Browner would fit into their plans. Seattle was tougher, deeper and more resilient with those players on its roster. Some of them would have been gone regardless, but Tate in particular would have been a logical player to re-sign if the team had the money to do so. Keeping Tate would have been a lot easier if Harvin weren't costing so much and if Harvin hadn't fought with Tate before the Super Bowl.

Without Harvin's contract blocking them, the Seahawks also could have considered signing free agents from other teams, much in the way they hit home runs with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril a year earlier. Instead, they bet on Harvin producing well enough for them to overlook his rough edges. It took them only six games to decide he wasn't worth the trouble.

The damage does not end there. Seattle also sent its 2013 first- and seventh-round choices and 2014 third-rounder to Minnesota as compensation for Harvin. That explains why the Seahawks, though still young and talented overall, went into Week 7 as the only team without a former first-round pick under the age of 25. Think Seattle could use a couple of second-year talents right about now?

Harvin's acquisition came at the expense of quality depth, making the Seahawks additionally vulnerable to injuries. And they have been hit hard this season, in the secondary especially. Seattle ranks 25th this season in Total QBR allowed (74.5) after ranking first (29.0) last season. Facing a series of top quarterbacks has not helped, but that is still a concerning trend.

The longer-term future can be brighter without Harvin, though. Seattle will recoup the 2015 salary-cap flexibility to re-sign Wilson without necessarily writing off the returns of Bobby Wagneror K.J. Wright. In the meantime, the Seahawks will defend their championship with a roster diminished by their initial investment in Harvin, and without whatever Harvin could have offered.

2. Here are some words of warning for the Jets, regarding Harvin.

When the Seahawks acquired Harvin, I spoke with a bunch of league sources on their opinions of the deal. One general manager issued a warning that seems appropriate now.

"Harvin has been kicked out of programs his whole life," the GM said. "Not just in the NFL, but in high school and junior high. He has never proven to be sustainably coachable."

The Jets have little to lose besides their owner's money. Harvin's contract carries a $10.5 million salary for 2015, but it'll be an upset if the Jets or any other team pays that much for him.

3. The third-best team in the NFC West might be the best team before long.

The horned-rimmed glasses, Kangol hats and bold statements can make Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians seem a bit eccentric, but the rest of the NFC West is taking him seriously. The Cardinals now have a 15-7 record under Arians, one game behind the 16-6 marks Seattle and San Francisco have posted in the regular season over the same period.

An executive from another team in the division said he's become a big fan of Arians after misreading him early.

"They have taken a coach and gotten players that fit his identity, and he just refuses to take his foot off the gas," the exec said. "His teams attack the mid-to-deep level of the field better than anybody. That team loves playing for him. He is the guy that got a job that he never thought he was going to get. He is at an age where he knew this was his one chance and it shows. The fun thing about watching his teams is they carry his bravado."

Bruce Arians' Cardinals are an impressive 5-1.

When the Cardinals announced Arians' hiring, team president Michael Bidwill listed leadership, accountability and performance as the three traits he wanted in a head coach. Arians, backed by an aggressive general manager in Steve Keim, has delivered on all three.

"The way it is going in the National Football League, it's not hard to turn around [a team]," Arians said when the Cardinals hired him. "You've gotta have some luck, but if you find a common cause and your locker room bonds and you truly believe in each other, you have a chance every week. If you play hard for 60 minutes, you'll beat most teams."

Other memorable and instructive Arians comments from his first day (with updates revealing where the Cardinals rank in the corresponding areas):

• "We got a great home stadium and nobody is going to beat us here. That's eight wins." Update: The Cardinals are 3-0 at home this season and 9-2 at home under Arians.

• "Cardinals don't beat Cardinals." Update: Arizona is tied with Denver and Seattle for the fewest turnovers per game this season. The team is 5-0 in games when it led by one score in the fourth quarter.

• "I will call the offensive plays, until I find someone who can call them better. I haven't found one yet." Update: The Cardinals are a top-five team in Total QBR since the middle of last season. They were last -- by far -- over the previous three seasons. The production has been good withCarson Palmer and with backup Drew Stanton.

• "We have six home runs on the play sheet every week and we're not coming home with any bullets in the gun." Update: Arizona trails only Philadelphia in long pass attempts per game, defined as those covering at least 20 yards. The Cardinals lead the league in average pass distance, a reflection of Arians' philosophy.

4. The 49ers' blowout defeat Sunday night was not the end of the world.

The schedule-makers dealt San Francisco a difficult challenge by sending the 49ers to Denver six days after they played at St. Louis on Monday night. Having Peyton Manning gunning for his record 509th touchdown pass made this 42-17 defeat feel like a setup.

Over the past decade, teams playing on the road six days after a Monday night road game have gone 9-9 in the first games and 6-12 in the second games. It's on to the bye for San Francisco.

5. Here's what is different about the Detroit Lions -- and the New Orleans Saints.

The Lions are 3-1 this season in games in which they led by one score in the fourth quarter. They were a league-worst 8-11 (.421) in those games over the past two seasons; the Saints are 1-3 in those games after going 4-2 in them last season. The ability to protect fourth-quarter leads separates the 5-2 Lions from the 2-4 Saints. No team has lost more fourth-quarter leads than New Orleans this season.

What has changed? The Lions and Saints have flipped their run-pass ratios in those lead-protecting situations. Detroit has dropped back to pass 35.3 percent of the time when leading by one score in the fourth quarter, a big drop from their 52.8 rate over the past two seasons. New Orleans' dropback rate in those situations has jumped to 69.0 this season from 51.7 percent -- the rate for New Orleans from 2006 through last season, which covers the Sean Payton era. (Peyton was not pleased with a question from a reporter about his throwing late in the game with a lead, during his postgame press conference.)

6. Remember, the Chicago Bears' defense was what had to improve.

Any Bears fan could relate to the frustration receiver Brandon Marshall expressed following a 27-14 home defeat to the Miami Dolphins. Whether or not Marshall "went off" on quarterback Jay Cutler following the game matters in the locker room, but it should not obscure the primary issue preventing the 3-4 Bears from getting appreciably better. Their defense hasn't been good enough to overcome the turnover fluctuations that have always been part of the Cutler equation.

The 2013 Bears allowed 2.36 points per drive, which ranked 379th out of 384 teams since 2002. That figure has improved slightly to 2.19 this year (25th in the NFL this season). The Dolphins'Ryan Tannehill completed 78.1 percent of his passes Sunday, a rate he exceeded only once previously, against Jacksonville in 2012. He completed his first 14 passes and basically shredded the Bears' defense. Cutler played the way he will sometimes play. That isn't changing anytime soon.

7. The book on Tannehill will not get an update quite yet.

Tannehill ranks fifth in Total QBR (88.1) and eighth in passer rating (105.8) since Week 4, a span of three games. He was in the bottom five for both categories over the first three weeks. He has been a different player since coach Joe Philbin admitted to mishandling the quarterback situation by publicly wavering on whether Tannehill would remain the starter following a 34-15 defeat to Kansas City.

A coach who studied Tannehill during his first three starts had this to say about the quarterback at that time: "I still think he can be a sleeper this year, but when I watch that guy now, I'm a little afraid of what I saw from him coming out of college. He was a pre-med guy, Mr. Detail and lacked some swag. He is kind of stiff and quiet. He is not meek, but nothing stands out. You watch him play and it's the same arm angle all the time -- flat, hard, no feel or rhythm. If it is not exactly 1-2-3 throw, he does not ad-lib as well and when he has to move, his accuracy goes. I thought he would feel his way out of it and have some instincts take over. He runs really well, but it doesn't show up on tape because he never runs. He is missing a whole part of the game."Tannehill's first three opponents (New England, Buffalo and Kansas City) were tougher matchups than his three most recent ones (Oakland, Green Bay and Chicago). Still, the transformation has been striking. Tannehill has 132 yards rushing in his past three games after gaining 18 before that, a potential indication he is playing more freely. Miami has been a tense place these past couple of seasons, and Tannehill has sometimes played like a tense quarterback. Not lately.

That was the book on Tannehill less than one month ago. Perhaps now he is "feeling his way out of it," as the coach put it. Jacksonville, San Diego, Detroit, Buffalo and Denver are next on the schedule. That stretch will more clearly define Tannehill and the Dolphins.

8. Insiders might have to change their tune on the Indianapolis Colts.

Talent evaluators throughout the league have privately downplayed the work Indianapolis has done to improve its roster, suggesting the Colts have been living off lottery winnings since landing Andrew Luck. That criticism was tough to refute while Luck was carrying a team without much defense or running game. The trade Indy made for Trent Richardson -- shipping a 2014 first-rounder to the Browns for a player who has not panned out, at a position considered less valuable than it used to be -- made the Colts additionally vulnerable to criticism on the roster-building front.

There was nothing to criticize Sunday when the Colts held Cincinnati without a first down for most of the first half during a 27-0 victory. The Colts' defense ranks among the NFL's top five in yards per game allowed, points allowed, first downs allowed, sack rate, net yards per pass attempt allowed, Total QBR allowed and third-down conversion rate allowed. It is sixth in expected points added.

Colts skeptics quickly point to a weak AFC South schedule, but Indy has played two of its better defensive games outside the division, holding Baltimore and Cincy to a combined 13 points.

9. This is looking like a no-win situation for the Atlanta Falcons' coaches.

The Falcons' coaching staff had to cringe last week when team owner Arthur Blank went public with his criticisms of the team.

"We've got tremendous talent, really, on both sides of the ball, coaching-wise and player-wise,"Blank said. "And to be sitting at 2-4 after six games is very disappointing."

The Falcons are talented at the offensive skill positions, but injuries have wiped out an already questionable offensive line. The defense lacks a formidable pass-rusher. This is not an especially talented roster overall. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they have more depth in their front office than they have at some roster spots. That is making it tough for the coaching staff to win games. Blank awarded contract extensions in January to coach Mike Smith, CEO Rich McKay and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. The team also added former Kansas City Chiefs GM Scott Pioli as assistant GM.

Blank's frustration figures only to grow. With a London game against Detroit looming in Week 8, the Falcons will go another month before their next game in Atlanta. They have an NFL-worst 1-11 road record since the start of last season.

10. Jadeveon Clowney's availability is up to Clowney.

Players continually walk the line between returning from injuries as soon as possible and looking out for their own long-term health interests. Clowney has been walking that line for the Houston Texans amid expectations he'll return from a Week 1 knee injury against Pittsburgh on Monday night. Coach Bill O'Brien told reporters the team is taking its cues from Clowney, which implies there is no medical issue preventing a return.

Clowney's status against the Steelers is the No. 1 variable entering Monday night. He has hardly practiced and he presumably would not play extensively if he does suit up.


Mike Sando | email

NFL Insider

  • ESPN Insider NFL columnist and blogger
  • Covered the NFL since 1998
  • Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee

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