Percy Harvin And The NFC West: The “Luxury” Misconception

May 20, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin (11) and wide receiver Sidney Rice (18) laugh on the sidelines during organized team activities at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
May 20, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin (11) and wide receiver Sidney Rice (18) laugh on the sidelines during organized team activities at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

After Percy Harvin tweeted last night that he would “half” to have hip surgery, the sports media world went crazy. This morning, front pages were littered with content about Harvin, analyzing and speculating about what the Seattle Seahawks should do with their offense in the wake of losing such a supremely talented player. However, the overwhelming consensus, surprisingly, appeared to be that the Seattle Seahawks will be “no worse for wear,” even in the absence of, arguably, the most explosive player in the NFL. The common talking point among pundits and writers continues to be that Harvin was merely a “luxury” addition. Most suggest that because of the ‘Hawks late season success last year, the “old roster” is more than capable of repeating as contenders; maybe even replicating the three-game 50 points-per-Sunday streak.

For the most part, the Seattle Seahawks offensive roster is relatively unchanged. In fact, aside from the return of oft-injured James Carpenter to the offensive line, the starting-eleven is virtually the same. So, naturally, if the offense was successful last season, why wouldn’t they be successful this season?

Well, there is a reason that the Seattle Seahawks went “all-in” on the troubled ex-Vikings receiver. Despite how the team was portrayed at the end of last season, the ‘Hawks offense was by no means “dynamic.” While they did “average” 50 points per game over a three game stretch, they did so against the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, and a San Francisco 49ers’ squad struggling in the midst of replacing Justin Smith on the defensive line. For the rest of the season, the team averaged only 22.7 points in games that they won. Even into the playoffs, the offense was utterly useless against the Washington Redskins to start the game; until Robert Griffin III first injured his knee in the opening half. They were similarly sub-par to open against the Atlanta Falcons, failing to score in the opening two quarters. With Russell Wilson slinging the ball in the second half against the Falcons’ heavily-criticized, soft-zone, “prevent” defense, the Seahawks were able to coming within reach at the game at the end. However, their offensive failures in the first half proved to be too great of an obstacle to overcome.

Overall, Seattle’s offense ranked 27th in the league in passing yards, and was heavily reliant on the legs of Marshawn Lynch and the defense to start the offense in “workable” field position. On the ground, Lynch was one of only five backs in the NFL to surpass 300 carries, and did so bulldozing ahead for 5.0 yards per attempt. In that infamous three-game stretch, Lynch averaged 117.3 yard per game, surpassing 100 yards rushing in each game; a feat that he obtained in 10 games throughout the regular season, not including four 85+ yard finishes.

However, 2012 was the first year that Lynch played all 16 games in the regular season. In fact, Lynch has a fairly substantial history of injury in the NFL, the most recent being a back injury holding him out of a game against the Cleveland Browns in 2011. Moreover, the history of the NFL does not take kindly to running backs that straddle the 300+ carries mark. In 2011, only two players took more than 300 carries during the season; Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner. Neither carried for more than 250 attempts the next season, with Jones-Drew only taking 86 handoffs before his season was ended. In 2010, eight players attempted more than 300 carries. Of those eight, four missed significant time the following season due to injury (Steven Jackson, Arian Foster, Rashard Mendenhall, and Cedric Bensen). With all of that in mind, the odds are against Lynch playing all 16 games if the ‘Hawks plan on feeding him touches at the rate he got them last season. The only way to reduce the chances of injury and increase the longevity of Lynch’s career would be to reduce his carries. However, by decreasing the touches for Lynch, the Seahawks will inevitably change offensively…

Even if you take Marshawn Lynch’s inevitable decline out of the equation, the Seahawks are not out of the woods. Sydney Rice, the ‘Hawks most productive receiver from last season, recently left Seattle’s camp to undergo a “non-surgical procedure” on his knee. Even with Rice on the field at full strength, the duo of he and Golden Tate combined for a pedestrian 1,436 yards last season as the No.1 and No.2 receivers. Worse, only 30% of their receiving yards game after the catch, with Sidney Rice breaking a grand total of zero tackles in his 797 offensive snaps on the field.

Marshawn Lynch won’t, or at least shouldn’t, see as many touches as he did last season, unless the Seattle Seahawks want to run the 28 year-old back prematurely into the ground. Combine that reduced rushing attack with the lingering knee troubles of Sydney Rice, and you can certainly understand why a team would be willing to spend an average of $11.1 million per season on a receiver. If the massive, cap-eating contract weren’t enough, they gave up three picks to the Minnesota Vikings, including a 1st-rounder in this past year’s draft, and a mid-rounder in the 2014 draft. Even picking in the Bottom 10, the ‘Hawks would have had their choice of almost any receiver in the class, including a Harvin-esque player, like Cordarrelle Patterson. As a cherry on top, the acquisition of Harvin also pressed the ‘Hawks to let Leon Washington walk, leaving a massive void in the return game on special teams and on the depth chart at receiver.

With all of that in mind, the assertion that Percy Harvin was merely a “luxury” is preposterous, on a number of different levels. With Russell Wilson at quarterback, Marshawn Lynch and rookie Christine Michael at running back, and a top-tier offensive line, the Seattle Seahawks will certainly not completely trail off on the offensive side of the football. However, on the field, Harvin is an offensive game-changer.  He was not only cast as the “savior” to an offense that lacked “explosiveness,” but was, more importantly, a huge determining factor in a number of major offseason decisions made by the organization. As a result,  his absence will undoubtedly have a massive effect on the ‘Hawks chances of living up the enormously large expectations being placed on the team for the upcoming season. No team has the “luxury” of giving away 1st-rounders and $11M contracts… no team.