The Seattle Seahawks cleaned up a problem in their locker room.
Now they have a new one on the field.
Whatever tension Percy Harvin caused in Seattle – no matter who he punched or didn't punch, irritated or didn't irritate – he could stretch a defense like few other players in the NFL. The same can be said for Golden Tate, who left Seattle via free agency. The Seahawks have suffered without Tate, and now they will suffer without Harvin after Friday's shocking trade to the New York Jets. That pain will be hard to immediately alleviate.
With all due respect to Doug Baldwin and Marshawn Lynch, quarterback Russell Wilson doesn't have many weapons left. And if you want to know the special challenges of having a talented young quarterback with a power rusher and not much on the flanks, just ask the San Francisco 49ers. That's who the Seahawks are now, and it's not a compliment.
What was clear in February's Super Bowl was also clear on those championship Florida Gators teams: Harvin is always more trouble for defenses than he is for teammates. His jet sweeps against the Denver Broncos, along with his kick return for a touchdown to start the second half of the Super Bowl, undid Denver's hopes of a comeback. Tate is not as flashy or as fast, but he is one of the best receivers in football after the catch, and he showed that Sunday in his game-changing touchdown in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints. Tate gives the Detroit Lions a dimension they have lacked on offense outside of Calvin Johnson, and that dimension is now lacking in Seattle.
"Those guys are as talented as advertised, and as mean as advertised," says Jabari Greer, who played against both Tate and Harvin when he was a defensive back in New Orleans. "They are the new Steve Smith."
Both Harvin and Tate did for the Seahawks what Wilson could not always do: turn a few yards into a ton of yards. They do it in different ways, but both reduce pressure on the quarterback in a very real sense. (They are also both underrated blockers downfield.) Wilson is a dynamic, creative player, and his efforts in a comeback Sunday against the St. Louis Rams showed that, but it's no more assured for Wilson to win games without a strong array of receivers than it was for Colin Kaepernick to win games on his own last season before Michael Crabtree returned to health.
This isn't an endorsement of Harvin as a teammate. He had anger issues in the past, and in the NFL, where few personal problems are properly treated (or even dealt with in a healthy way), it's highly unlikely those issues have vanished altogether. The Jets' Breno Giacomini, a former Seahawk, confirmed Harvin's confrontation with Tate, but downplayed the incident in an interview with NJ.com.
"I'm definitely not a perfect person," Harvin told reporters in New Jersey on Monday.
This is no secret.
Nor is it a secret that Harvin rarely played consistently. He has dealt with migraines frequently throughout his career and, according to reports, there were times in Seattle when he didn't want to play. He was not reliable, which is probably putting it lightly.
But if Harvin wasn't important, his departure would not have created the waves that it did. Lynch reportedly "went off" upon learning of the deal, and almost didn't get on the team bus to the airport for Sunday's game. Baldwin admitted the trade was a factor in the loss to the Rams as well, saying, "I felt we handled it to the best of our ability, but I think it might have been a factor in some way."
This is one of the biggest challenges of the Pete Carroll era. Other winning teams have made what appeared to be drastic cuts and still competed to the highest level (see: New England Patriots). But there have been more teams that lost a volatile but talented player and didn't look the same afterward.
"It's subtraction without addition," Greer said. "What are you going to add in? What's going to be added now to balance it out? Once you do that adding, then you start to be successful. If you take Harvin out and add nothing in, that never works."
That addition could be Wilson himself. He was phenomenal on Sunday and nearly won the game after a 21-6 halftime deficit. If Wilson takes another step in his career, becoming even more of a respected leader, the Seahawks may move on without Harvin and Tate and thrive because of the change.
They will start Sunday in Charlotte, against a team with a dynamic young quarterback who lost his best receiving weapon. The Carolina Panthers don't seem better off without Steve Smith. The Seahawks don't seem better off without Tate and Harvin.
It's up to Russell Wilson, just as it's up to Cam Newton, to make everyone forget what's been lost.