Steve Hutchinson's departure still burns Seahawks

Published Nov. 19, 2009 8:07 a.m. ET

Adrian Peterson doesn't know much about "poison pills" in contracts. All the Vikings superstar running back knows is that six-time Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson is clearing holes for him. And that Hutchinson isn't doing anything for anybody anymore in Seattle. "If you could see me, I'm doing a dance right now, because we got him and you all don't," the NFC's rushing leader said Wednesday, laughing through the telephone from Eden Prairie, Minn., before his and Hutchinson's Vikings host the Seahawks on Sunday. "It's still funny to me how (the Seahawks) let this guy go," Peterson said, poking the many in Seattle who still howl over the departure of "Hutch." "He's a beast." It's been 3 1/2 years since the Vikings outfoxed the Seahawks with disputed "poison pill" provisions in a contract offer to Hutchinson that Seattle was unable to match. The Seahawks took wide receiver Nate Burleson away from Minnesota with the same tricks a week later. The net results: Minnesota won, Seattle mostly lost - and the NFL still has contractual loopholes ripe for exploitation. When asked about Seattle on Wednesday at Vikings headquarters, Hutchinson just shook his head. "I've been here just as long as I was there," said Hutchinson, in his fourth season with the Vikings after five with the Seahawks. Hutchinson has become one of the most decorated and rich guards of his generation. His Vikings are 8-1, with Peterson romping and Brett Favre throwing like he's half his 40 years of age. The Seahawks? They are 3-6, on their way out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season. They are starting their sixth left guard since Hutchinson bolted. Their offense led the league in scoring in Hutchinson's final season, when they reached the Super Bowl, but hasn't been better than 14th since. "He comes to work every day," Minnesota coach Brad Childress said of Hutchinson. "He grinds. Just what you want offensive linemen to be." The Seahawks made Hutchinson, their 2001 first-round draft choice, their transition player for 2006, due for a mandated one-year contract but free to negotiate with others. A miffed Hutchinson signed Minnesota's free agent offer sheet worth $49 million over seven years, with a $16 million signing bonus. Seattle had the right to match, but Minnesota and Hutchinson's agent, Tom Condon, created unprecedented clauses stipulating the entire contract would become guaranteed if Hutchinson was not the highest-paid lineman on his team. Seattle would have had to give him a deal at least equal to left tackle Walter Jones' average annual salary of $7.5 million - unheard of for a guard - or guarantee all $49 million, unheard of for anybody. The Seahawks lost an arbitrator's ruling over whether Minnesota's contract violated the league's collective bargaining agreement. To retaliate, they signed Burleson to an offer sheet worth the same $49 million and seven years. Seattle's offer also included a poison pill, requiring all of Burleson's money to be guaranteed if he played five or more games of a season inside the state of Minnesota. The Vikings, of course, didn't match that. Burleson signed a week after Hutchinson did, for what boiled down to a four-year deal worth $15 million. He has been slowed by knee injuries since coming to Seattle. "I didn't feel like a pawn," Burleson said. "Once everything started happening (with Hutchinson) I realized it was bigger than just a four-year deal." Then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue thought the Hutchinson deal violated the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement. He wanted the issue addressed. Yet NFL Players Association general counsel Richard Berthelsen confirmed Wednesday the system that allowed Hutchinson's devious contract remains. It was discussed before a late renewal of the bargaining agreement in March 2006, but rather than delay the entire agreement and potentially have a work stoppage, the two sides tabled the issue. The union, of course, thinks poison pills are pure genius. Yet no one has used them since the Hutchinson-Burleson episode. The bargaining agreement is currently up for negotiation. Berthelsen says he expects the poison pill "to be one of many contentious issues." Hutchinson, coincidentally, is the Vikings' player representative for labor issues. What does he think of the poison pill stuff? "I don't read contracts," he said. "I don't know anything about that." ---