The decision by the Minnesota Vikings to place Percy Harvin on season-ending injured reserve, coach Leslie Frazier said, was based "purely" on his slow-healing sprained left ankle and not any issue with a uniquely valuable player who has had clashes with the team.
Frazier declined to be more specific about the injury, which occurred in the third quarter of the Nov. 4 game at Seattle. Even severe sprains don't normally require two months to recover from, but by shelving him now the Vikings declared they wouldn't get Harvin back at full strength in time to warrant keeping him on the active roster.
"For him as well as our team, this is the best thing to do as opposed to continuing to try to make something happen that's not going to happen," Frazier said after practice Thursday. "He's such a valuable commodity. You don't want to do anything that's going to create some long-term ill effects."
Harvin hasn't been available to reporters for two weeks.
"It certainly is disappointing that I was not able to finish out this season with my teammates. As a competitor I definitely wanted to get back out on the field, but my injury has just not allowed me to progress to the point where I can help our team," Harvin said in a statement distributed by the Vikings. "I appreciate the efforts of our medical staff and the support of our fans in helping me through this process and look forward to coming back stronger and better than ever."
Frazier said Harvin shouldn't need surgery.
"At least we're hoping that. ... Got my fingers crossed that won't be the case," the coach said.
Frazier said Harvin never had any setbacks but only made incremental progress. He tried to practice on Nov. 28 but was favoring his right foot and having trouble changing direction when he had to push off on the injured ankle. Frazier said IR became a possibility in the last few days for the Vikings, who host Chicago on Sunday.
"You understand the situation and understand where he is. We've got other guys that are going to step up and hopefully make some plays for us in this ballgame," Frazier said.
Harvin had an argument with coach Brad Childress in 2010. He expressed general frustration with the Vikings this summer, asking for a trade and then withdrawing his request. He acknowledged more recently he had problems with the way his role in the offense was communicated to him. During the Seattle game last month, before he was hurt, Harvin was seen shouting at Frazier on the sideline after another stalled drive.
But Frazier said Harvin didn't fight the decision to place him on IR.
"He understood. He was frustrated, like everybody. He wants to be out there on the field. He's a great competitor, as we all know. Just unfortunate he wasn't making the progress that was necessary for him to get back out there," Frazier said.
Frazier said he wasn't sure yet whether Harvin would continue his rehabilitation with the team or on his own, in Florida or Virginia. With one year left on his rookie contract, given the concerns about his long-term attitude and durability, Harvin could've played his last game with the Vikings if they were to trade him instead of work out an extension or let his deal play out. He's so valuable to the offense and such a uniquely talented player, however, that the Vikings won't just give away a speedy-yet-punishing receiver, runner and returner for a less-than-fair return.
For now, Christian Ponder and the rest of the offense will have to cope without him.
"It's obviously unfortunate for Percy and for our team. He was having an unbelievable year when he was healthy, and we'd love to have him throughout the season, just with the things he can do and his abilities," linebacker Chad Greenway said.
Rookie Jarius Wright has filled Harvin's spot as the slot receiver. This means more playing time for him, but not the way he wanted that.
"It was kind of heartbreaking. I just wanted to get Percy back and see how we'd be on the field at the same time. I know a lot of the fans wanted a chance to see that also," Wright said.
Focusing on Harvin's absence won't help, of course.
"We know we have to move forward. We still have something that we're trying to accomplish this year. So just wish him the best, and hopefully he comes back healthy next year," running back Adrian Peterson said.
While the players don't compare, the Vikings had one positive development this week to counter the loss of Harvin.
Cornerback Chris Cook, who broke his right forearm in the Oct. 25 game against Tampa Bay and was in jeopardy of missing the rest of the year, returned to practice Thursday. Because the Vikings used their one-per-season designation to return in putting Cook on injured reserve, he is eligible to play on Dec. 23 at Houston.
"It was good to see him out here today moving around, so we have to see how progresses but that's the goal," Frazier said.
Defensive end Jared Allen, dealing with back and shoulder troubles, didn't practice again, but Frazier said he'll be fine for Sunday's game. Peterson was held out simply for rest, and he'll fully participate on Friday.
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