The Minnesota Vikings plan to sit down on Saturday afternoon and decided exactly what the plan is regarding NFL free agency this offseason. On of the players they'll be discussing -- offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson -- doesn't fit into the Minnesota Vikings' long-term plans. Considering the NFL veteran is now 34 and due a salary of $7 million next season, Minnesota fans have likely seen the last of Hutchinson in a Vikings uniform.
When he officially becomes a free agent, it will also mark the end of a battle that the Vikings definitely got the best of -- the great "Poison Pill" battle of 2006.
The Vikings had a major need on the offensive line going into the 2006 off-season. The Seattle Seahawks had designated Hutchinson as a "transition player," meaning that he was still a free agent but that they had the right to match any offer sheet that a team might have offered him. The Vikings sent Hutchinson a huge seven-year, $49 million contract offer, the richest at that time for a guard, and while ordinarily it wouldn't have been much of a problem for the Seahawks to match such an offer, the Vikings had a trick up their sleeve.
Minnesota's front office included a clause in their offer sheet to Hutchinson stating if, at any time, Hutchinson was not the highest-paid offensive lineman on the roster, his entire $49 million contract would immediately become fully guaranteed. This, then, was a problem for Seattle.
The Seahawks had just signed future Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones to a huge contract extension -- one larger than the one that the Vikings had offered Hutchinson. Hence, had the Seahawks matched Minnesota's offer to Hutchinson, he would have been the second-highest paid offensive lineman on the Seattle roster and would have had his entire contract guaranteed immediately.
Needless to say, the Seahawks had no way to match the offer, and Hutchinson wound up in Minnesota. Because Seattle had tagged Hutchinson as a "transition" player rather than a "franchise" player, the Seahawks were not entitled to any compensation from the Vikings as a result. The difference between the tender offer for a "transition" player that season as opposed to a "franchise" player was about half of a million dollars.
The Seahawks were livid over what they found to be underhanded tactics by the Vikings (and, though underhanded, they were completely legal) and attempted to get revenge on the Vikings by signed Minnesota free agent wide receiver Nate Burleson to a similar seven-year, $49 million offer sheet.
In their offer sheet, they placed a clause that said that Burleson's entire contract would become guaranteed if he played five or more games in the state of Minnesota in any season for the duration of the contract. Since the Minnesota Vikings play their home games in, well, Minnesota, the Vikings would have been on the hook for Burleson's entire contract in short order. The difference was that Burleson, as a restricted free agent, had been tendered at a level where anyone that wanted to sign him would have to give up a draft pick equal to the round of the draft where Burleson was selected. In this case, that was a third-round draft choice.
In the end, Seattle essentially traded Steve Hutchinson and a third-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for Nate Burleson. Hutchinson moved on to Minnesota and became an anchor on the offensive line, blocking for a 1,000 yard rusher in five of his six seasons with the Vikings. Burleson caught 136 passes for 1,758 yards and 15 touchdowns in four years with the Seahawks before moving on to the Detroit Lions.
With Hutchinson likely moving on sson, it seems we can finally evaluate the results of this battle, though the result has been known for a very long time. This writer would trade Burleson and a third-rounder for Steve Hutchinson 100 times out of 100 ... and I have a feeling that the Seahawks probably would, too, given the opportunity.
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