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In Praise of the Jets’ Acquisition of Percy Harvin
10.17.14

UPDATE [Sat 10/18/14; 11:03AM PST]: Sources are reporting the pick is a conditional 6th round pick with conditions that could make it as high as a 4th round pick. If true, this trade just went from a really good gamble took an astounding deal.

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The Jets traded for Percy Harvin earlier today -- in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick (some to be announced conditions that could elevate that pick to as high as a 2nd round pick.) The ESPN news coverage seemingly universally panned this deal from the side of the Jets in ways that were shocking and seemingly incredibly stupid. Here's my defense of the deal:

1. Cost
Harvin is a bonafide #1 wide receiver. I think there's no doubt about that. There are some non-trivial injury issues but, when healthy, I think there's no doubt he's a #1 wide receiver. He's still only 26 years old. You can't get a #1 WR for a 4th round pick. You can't get one for a 2nd round pick. There's a reason why the Jets were able to get him for such a low cost -- there are some complications and some things that the Jets could take advantage of (mainly their cap room). One of the things I like best about the deal is the floor in terms of cost -- just a 4th round pick. I'm going to guess that Idzik made some very smart bounds in terms of what Harvin's productivity would have to be for that 4th to become a 2nd, but let's assume that if the Jets give up a 2nd or 3rd, it means that Harvin is doing some great things.

2. Production w/Russell Wilson
Some may argue that Harvin, despite Seattle's efforts to showcase him and having a superior QB in Russell Wilson, was quite unproductive this year. And that would be true. I don't know the exact reason for this. Maybe it's scheme. Maybe he was a bad fit. Maybe he was a malcontent. Maybe he's not as good as advertised (which has been bandied about). I would be very surprised if Harvin isn't as good as we think he is mainly because when we see him be good, he's very very good. He's game changing good. But again, this is where cost comes in -- if the Jets screwed that up, it costs them a 4th. (keep in mind that Seattle gave up a 1, 3, and a 7 just 18 months ago to get him -- and I think a lot of people thought that was a very good deal for Seattle then.) 

Wilson and Geno are also very different QBs. I think there's no doubt that Wilson is a better QB than Geno, but Geno (in my opinion) has both a better arm and throws a better deep ball. Now, Seattle liked to get Harvin the ball in space. So a lot of them were short passes designed for Harvin to break it. Whether or not this translates with Geno -- I'm not sure, but it is different.

3. Offensive Weapons
This Jets team is... ok. Maybe bad. Their defense is pretty good. Their offense is not so good, even taking into account their very respectable showing against the Pats. I think it was one of the commentators in a Cowboys game that said in reference to Dez Bryant -- "it's nice to have weapons in the NFL." Decker and Kerley are fine receivers -- not really weapons. Jace Amaro might turn out to be (or even might be now) a weapon. But Harvin is without a doubt a weapon. This isn't just general label-talk. It's hard to move the ball in the NFL. You need guys who other teams game plan against because they're that good. Harvin is that guy. He also completely changes the wide receiver dynamic. Instead of going Decker then Kerley -- Harvin is now the #1 WR and it rolls Harvin / Decker / Kerley. Decker's ceiling is probably as a good #2 and I'd much rather have Kerley as a very good slot receiver. With Harvin, you have both the threat of a big play any time he catches the ball and also the type of player who conceivably could give you 100 yard production every game. That's a big deal.

4. Malcontent / Locker Room Problems
This is starting to float out there. Peter King and other folks are reporting that Harvin has trust + anger issues. Presumably true. But again, I go back to the compensation -- it's a 4th round pick if things go awry. You can't get that type of player for a 4th round pick. And don't forget the variance with that. You can't just say, "Well, so and so team got X for a 4th round pick." What % of 4th round picks turn out to be starters let alone stars? You know Harvin is a star right now. 

I'm very big into high character / locker room guys. In fact, I was just watching the doc series "Finding Giants" about the Giants' recent draft process and totally agreed with their focus on high character guys (they drafted something like 4 team captains in the 2014 draft.) But here's the thing -- Harvin is at like an 80% discount right now. And the downside cost is low. So you see if you can make it work. This is the same type of regular gamble you might make on a 4th round pick. If you're picking a high character guy in the 4th round -- there's no way his talent ceiling is as high as a 1st rounder. So you're making a tradeoff. The Jets are making a tradeoff here -- but a very advantageous one.

5. Jets' Cap Space
The Jets had something like $20.7mm in cap space. They're one of the few teams that could easily fit Harvin's salary. This is no different from the NBA when teams right up against the cap have to attach draft picks to unload bad (or even sometimes mediocre) contracts. Witness the Lakers' acquisition of Jeremy Lin. Lin is a good player. A good player with a non-trivial contract. Houston had to attach a 1st round pick to move Lin. So the Lakers will get either their starting PG or a backup PG that will play solid minutes AND a 1st round pick in exchange for NOTHING just because they could absorb Lin's contract when others couldn't. That's sometimes fortuitious / that's sometimes smart cap management. The Jets are doing the same thing here. But no one is putting it that way.

6. Harvins' Contract
A lot is being made about Harvin's contract. It's roughly $10mm/year for the next 4 years. That's pricey -- but not astronomical in today's NFL. It's also not guaranteed. The Jets can cut him every year, with no further consequence. I don't know why this is such a big deal. The Jets have the cap space. They spent it on a guy that could easily be a #1 WR right now. If it doesn't work out, they cut him. If it works out, they're paying for it. But currently, they're not using it. And in the future, if they have a better use for that salary slot, they can move on from Harvin. And if Harvin turns out to out perform the deal (not out of the question) -- they have him locked up for the next 4 years.

7. The 1-6 Jets
Sure, the Jets are 1-6. But just because the Jets aren't 4-3 or 5-2 doesn't mean they can't draft Harvin. It's not a bad thing to go from not so good to mediocre. It makes it a more viable free agent destination. It helps establish a culture of winning. It helps position your team for the future. I'm not saying Harvin will do any of these things -- but just because you're 1-6 doesn't mean that you have to bottom out and can't improve your team. Improving your team is a bit by bit process. This may be a small or large bit, but it's definitely a worthwhile one to try.

I'm a huge fan of the Harvin deal -- but not in a knee jerk reaction. GM John Idzik crafted a deal that when combined with Harvin's contract is a very big win for the Jets. It's not necessarily a bad deal from the side of the Seahawks -- I get why they might want to move on from him -- but it's certainly a big win for the Jets.

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