He was supposed to be the game-breaker, the big-play maker, the final piece. He was supposed to turn short gains into big ones, to strike fear into opposing teams with his ability to return kicks.
And now he is gone.
The Seahawks traded Percy Harvin to the New York Jets on Friday for a conditional draft pick in 2015. As shocking as the trade was – and it was truly a splash of cold water across the league – the ramifications for Seattle’s offense are just as interesting.
The Seahawks made sure that Harvin, a hybrid slot receiver/running back, got his touches each game. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said as much this week when explaining why the Seahawks targeted Harvin so often on short passes, and at times it felt as if the Seahawks forced the ball to Harvin instead of the spread-the-wealth approach that worked so well for them a year ago.
Harvin led the Seahawks with 22 catches, but he averaged just 6 yards per catch, the lowest total in the NFL among receivers with at least five catches.
The first thing the Harvin trade does, on the surface, is make this Marshawn Lynch’s offense once again.
Lynch’s workload has been one of the most debated topics this season. He had just six carries against San Diego, though the Seahawks’ offense as a whole hardly saw the field that game. He had just 10 carries last week against the Cowboys, though the Seahawks faced too many third-and-longs to sustain drives.
Former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said on the NFL Network this week that Seattle looked like a team still searching for its identity. But Lynch should once again find himself as the heart of Seattle’s offense, a status his teammates have willingly bestowed on him since his breakout season in 2011.
The Seahawks viewed Harvin’s impact as greater than his stats. Remember when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this about Harvin in August?
“Really good players have always helped other guys play well, and I think Percy’s factor could be one that really does help other guys,” Carroll said then. “It won’t always be his stats and his numbers.”
And remember when Carroll said this after the Seahawks sent Harvin in motion seven times against the Broncos earlier this season without ever giving him the ball?
“He kept drawing attention, and it allowed us to run the ball inside,” Carroll said then. “It was a really significant part of the plan…There wasn’t a time to give him the football, but his factor was still felt.”
Yet the Seahawks struggled to mesh Harvin into their offense consistently this season.
Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse will take on increased responsibility at receiver, and rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood will also likely get more work. Norwood has yet to play in a game this season, and Richardson has just one catch this year. But Carroll has praised both, and the Seahawks will need contributions from them in wake of Harvin’s departure.
The Seahawks have been at their best in recent years when they established Lynch and used the threat of a running game to create opportunities in the passing game. Too often this season that formula didn’t play out, though it’s unfair to blame that solely on the presence of Harvin.
Harvin’s exit means the Seahawks admit their trade for him before the 2013 season was a mistake. But it also means they might be able to get back to the black-and-blue offensive identity that became their staple under Carroll.
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