Ryan's Place

Monday, March 20, 2006

Seahawks Let Hutchinson Walk, Sign Peterson



From Mike Sando at The News Tribune:

The Seattle Seahawks lost an argument in the afternoon and Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson in the evening.

The one-two punch left the team with a gaping hole on its offensive line and more than $20 million in salary-cap space, some of which the team set aside for a likely agreement with former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson.

On a dramatic Monday filled with confusing plot twists, Hutchinson appeared headed for Minnesota when the Seahawks, having exhausted efforts to retain him under more favorable terms, fell silent as a 9 p.m. deadline to match the Vikings’ offer passed.

The move had become expected hours earlier when a “special master” appointed by the league and its players denied Seattle’s request to match the Vikings’ offer without adhering to a clause that would force them to guarantee the seven-year, $49 million pact.

Hutchinson, 28, started each of the 73 regular-season and postseason games he played for the Seahawks. A first-round draft choice from Michigan in 2001, he combined with six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones to give Seattle one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.

Super Bowl XL was their last game together.

How could Hutchinson get away? Pull up a chair.

The Seahawks could have essentially kept Hutchinson off the free-agent market by naming him their franchise player and offering a one-year contract worth $6.983 million.

An NFL team had never paid that much per season for a guard, however, and the Seahawks did not want to become the first. They named Hutchinson their transition player, reducing the one-year offer by $592,000 while removing some of the roadblocks that prevent franchise players from soliciting offers in free agency.

The idea was for Hutchinson to establish his value, perhaps with an assist from the market, and for Seattle to match any offer.

Armed with the right of first refusal, the Seahawks were gambling that no team would make a prohibitive offer for a guard.

Hutchinson, agent Tom Condon and the Vikings proved otherwise. When the Seahawks and the NFL Management Council refused to believe them, special master Stephen Burbank gave them no choice.

Burbank, the David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, upheld a clause in the Vikings’ offer that would have guaranteed the contract if Hutchinson were not the highest-paid offensive lineman on his team in 2006.

The clause required Hutchinson to be his team’s highest-paid lineman the moment he signed the Vikings’ offer sheet last week. The Vikings could make such an offer without guaranteeing the contract because none of their offensive linemen earned more per season.

The Seahawks and the NFL Management Council said the clause should instead apply to the point when Seattle matched the offer. In the meantime, the Seahawks even reworked Jones’ contract to make sure Hutchinson’s proposed deal averaged more per year.

Burbank shot them down.

“Special master Stephen Burbank has determined that the additional language that the Seahawks proposed to include in the Steve Hutchinson contract would alter a principal term of the Vikings’ offer sheet,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora said.

The league declined further comment, as did the Seahawks and Vikings. Burbank wasn’t talking, either. But NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelson, who represented Hutchinson and the Vikings’ position at the hearing, said the decision was a simple one.

“It was a real long-shot for the Seahawks to win this one,” Berthelson said, “because the plain meaning of the words used and the circumstances surrounding it leads to the inescapable conclusion that the Vikings meant for Hutchinson to have to be the highest-paid offensive lineman for the whole year beginning with the offer sheet.

“The Seahawks’ plan was to argue that the offer sheet the Vikings had given to him should be interpreted to be saying he only had to be the highest-paid player at any time in the year.

“It was a pretty fractured interpretation of the language and the special master didn’t buy it.”

NFL.com reported that Peterson will sign a seven-year, $54 million contract with the Seahawks.

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