Seahawks let Vikings take Hutchinson for $49M
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That the Seahawks were on the losing end of Monday's ruling by a special master -- a decision that cost them All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson -- is another example of why an NFL team should not let another write the contracts for its players.
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The seven-day deadline to match the Vikings' seven-year, $49 million offer sheet expired at midnight ET Monday. The Seahawks did not notify Hutchinson, the Vikings or his agent, Tom Condon, that they were going to match the unprecedented offer sheet, which Hutchinson signed on March 12. By letting the deadline pass, Hutchinson became property of the Vikings.
When asked if Hutchinson wanted to leave the team that drafted him 17th overall out of Michigan in 2001, Condon told The Associated Press, "Not at all. I think that there wasn't any reason for him to leave Seattle. Nevertheless, Minnesota really stepped out for him."
Once the deadline came and went, the Seahawks moved toward adding a big-time player to their defense, reaching a contract agreement with former 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson, one of the premier players still in the unrestricted free agent market.
The seven-year agreement, if completed, is expected to total more than what the Vikings offered Hutchinson. It will pay Peterson, the No. 4 player overall in ESPN.com's free agent rankings, as much as $55 million over seven seasons, and includes $18.5 million in bonuses.
It is not known if the acquisition of Peterson will take the Seahawks out of the running for Jets defensive end John Abraham. The Seahawks are locked with Atlanta in a tug-of-war over the three-time Pro Bowl end; they have agreed with the Jets on trade compensation, but they have been unable to strike a contract agreement with Abraham, whose preference is to play for the Falcons.
San Francisco 49ers
In securing Peterson, a tremendously talented player whose production has been reduced by injures in the last two seasons, the Seahawks are getting the kind of outside pass rusher they hoped that Abraham might bring them. Seattle led the NFL in sacks in 2005 with 50, but no player had more than nine.
The 27-year-old Peterson has the potential to produce double-digit sacks. He is regarded as one of the NFL's most athletic and diversely gifted defenders and can be a dominant force at times from his strongside linebacker spot.
Earlier Monday, the Seahawks lost a ruling with special master Stephen Burbank in which they wanted to make a slight change in the language of the Vikings' offer sheet to Hutchinson to avoid having to guarantee the entire $49 million had they matched. Burbank called the adjustment a change in the principle term of the contract and ruled in favor of Hutchinson and the Vikings.
By losing the case, heard by Burbank on Monday in Philadelphia, the Seahawks would have had to guarantee the entire contract. In the end, they weren't willing to do that to hold onto the best guard in the league.
Hutchinson recently was given the transition tag, so the Seahawks will not receive any compensation from the Vikings in return. Hutchinson becomes the highest-paid guard in NFL history and the fourth richest offensive lineman in the league.
Under the original deal, Hutchinson had a clause in the contract that would have guaranteed the entire deal if he wasn't the highest paid offensive lineman. At the time of the signing, Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones was making $7.5 million a year, $500,000 more than Hutchinson, and was the highest-paid offensive lineman on Seattle's roster.
Since receiving the deal, the Seahawks restructured Jones' deal Monday by guaranteeing a $2 million roster bonus and adding an eighth year to the original seven-year, $52.5 million deal that came with a base salary of $1 million. The eighth year was written to be voided, but it took the average of the contract to $6.6 million a year.
Burbank's ruling supported the Vikings, that the contract language of the highest-paid offensive lineman at the time of Hutchinson's signing applied. Because of the way the Hutchinson deal was written, the Seahawks would have a $13 million salary cap charge in 2006 and would have to guarantee the entire $49 million contract.
Guaranteeing that much would break new ground -- the deal would have been the largest guarantee for a player in NFL history. Peyton Manning received a $34.5 million signing bonus when he signed with the Colts a couple of years ago. That was part of a $98 million contract.
In the end, the Seahawks said no-go.
The Vikings will have to guarantee only $10 million of the $49 million because they don't have an offensive lineman making more than Hutchinson. With their "poison pill" holding up in front of an arbiter, the Vikings won the case and their reward was attaining one of the league's best offensive linemen.
Meanwhile, Seahawks officials, who met with Peterson late last week, believe that he is fully recovered from a torn Achilles and will return to his previous form in 2006. Several other teams, including the Dolphins, had indicated strong interest in Peterson since the start of the free agent period.
The 49ers' first-round draft choice in 2000, Peterson sustained a torn Achilles five games into the '04 season. Although he returned to play in 15 games in '05, totaling 87 tackles and three sacks, he was still slowed a bit from the injury.
The former Michigan State standout played each of the last two seasons under the one-year qualifying offer for a franchise player and was seeking a long-term contract. The 49ers felt they could not afford to use the franchise marker on Peterson for a third straight season and understood there was a good chance that he would depart as an unrestricted free agent.
In 79 games, Peterson has registered 399 tackles, 21½ sacks, five interceptions, 33 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Peterson is an effective blitzer off the edge but, as his statistics indicate, he is also able to drop and cover. His addition should dramatically upgrade a Seattle defense that statistically ranked No. 16 in overall defense in 2005, and which was seeking to add an outside playmaker.
John Clayton and Len Pasquarelli are senior NFL writers for ESPN.com.