Ex-Florida Gators WR Percy Harvin eyeing return to NFL after three-year retirement

By Adam Silverstein
April 22, 2020
Ex-Florida Gators WR Percy Harvin eyeing return to NFL after three-year retirement
Football

Image Credit: UAA

The professional football career of former Florida Gators wide receiver Percy Harvin has been filled with ups and downs. But with health regained and his personal life on track, Harvin appears prepared to give the NFL another go.

“I’m ready to return to the NFL,” Harvin told ESPN’s Josina Anderson on Wednesday. “I thought I was done, but that itch came back. I’ve been training with a former Olympian. My body is feeling good. Mentally, I’m better. My family is good. The timing is right.”

Harvin, who will turn 32 next month, played over parts of eight NFL seasons but has not seen action in double-digit games since his third year in 2011 due to a variety of personal and health-related reasons.

When Harvin was healthy and active, he was just as effective as he was playing for the Gators. The former No. 22 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings was named Rookie of the Year in 2009 after catching 60 passes for 790 yards with six touchdowns and two more scores in the kick return game.

During his time in Minnesota and beyond, Harvin was unable to keep up his production, time on the field or temperament inside the locker room. Before the 2010 season, he suffered a string of illnesses and even collapsed on a Vikings practice field due to complications from a severe migraine headache (an issue that plagued him dating back to his time at Florida). After missing much of the offseason, he returned to the field and caught 71 passes for 868 yards with seven total touchdowns.

His most productive season came in 2011 when he reached career marks in catches (87), receiving yards (967) and total touchdowns (nine). Harvin began 2012 with three 100-yard receiving games over the season’s first six contests, but an ankle injury placed him on injured reserve and contributed to the end of his time with the team. Not only was Harvin’s health a constant issue, he was also seen as a locker room divider.

Luckily for the Vikings, they found a trading partner for Harvin in the Seattle Seahawks, which acquired him ahead of the 2013 season for a package of three draft picks (first, third, seventh). Harvin signed a six-year, $67 million contract ($25.5 million guaranteed) following the trade and never came close to fulfilling the terms of his rich deal.

Harvin tore his labrum, underwent surgery and began the season on the physically unable to perform list; he did not step on the field for the Seahawks until the Week 11. One week after Harvin finally played, he was forced out again as his hip flared up. Out through Seattle’s first playoff game, he appeared ready to return in the NFC Championship but was sidelined with a concussion. It was at that time that reports began surfacing of Harvin getting in scuffles with teammates and resisting coaches’ orders, refusing to play in practices and games. He also had to be rushed to the hospital once after collapsing during a practice, the second time that had happened in his NFL career.

Still, Harvin suited up for the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII and electrified by returning the second-half opening kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown that ballooned Seattle’s massive lead and led to the team’s first championship.

The Seahawks decided one-and-a-half seasons of Harvin was enough, ridding themselves of his massive contract in the middle of 2014 by trading him to the New York Jets for a conditional draft pick.Harvin posted modest stats in limited action that season but was released by the Jets ahead of the 2015 season. He played for the Buffalo Bills on a one-year, $6 million contract but only posted 218 yards and a touchdown in five games and twice retired with the Bills, playing a couple games in 2016.

In his retirement, Harvin returned to Gainesville, Florida, to get right mentally and physically. He was working toward a degree at the University of Florida and assisting new Gators head coach Dan Mullen as he looked to rebuild the team to its former glory.

Harvin, who was able to make some strides getting his persistent and debilitating migraines under control while in the NFL, was nevertheless held back by his personality and injury history, which kept him from becoming the superstar that everyone believed he could become after leaving Florida.

In June 2018, Harvin admitted to Sports Illustrated that he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2010, and it persisted alongside his migraines throughout his NFL career, causing him to play games with little or no sleep.

“The best way I can describe it is that I felt ‘out of body,’” Harvin said while describing a typical bout of anxiety. “My heart would be going, I’d be sweating, I felt like everybody in the room was looking at me. My speech was slurring. I didn’t wanna eat. I was gasping for air. You’re so worked up that it’s hard to spit words out.”

The anxiety that plagued Harvin throughout his life does not excuse his behavioral issues, but no one can argue that dealing with such a disorder can affect one’s mood on a daily basis. “I just know everything would have been a lot easier if I had been patient with myself,” Harvin explained, noting how often he would be unable to eat or sleep.

“I knew I wasn’t functioning right, not only physically, just all around the board,” he told Anderson this week. “I had to get in contact with myself.”

In October 2019, Harvin revealed to Bleacher Report that his anxiety peaked when he was traded from the Vikings to the Seahawks, but his refusal to acknowledge or address his condition led to further issues, including an agitated personality that led to him fighting with teammates. He also admitted that he turned to marijuana to take the pressure off.

“Now you’re looking at a guy that — I was at the Mayo Clinic, and I had at least seven prescriptions that I was to take, from Zoloft and all the other ones I was taking, and the only thing that really seemed to work is when I would smoke marijuana,” he said. “There’s not a game I played in that I wasn’t high.”

While age 31 is not necessarily old for a wide receiver — Larry Fitzgerald is 36 and planning to enter another season with the Arizona Cardinals — it is a difficult one to restart a career after being sidelined for three years.

Then again, if Harvin is finally healthy and mentally sound, maybe the time off will provide him with an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. After all, despite all of his problems, there’s no denying his speed, ability and overall talent on the football field.

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