As expected, the Seahawks announced that three-time Pro bowl guard Steve Hutchinson would be the player tagged by the 1:00 p.m. deadline on February 23. Teams had until such time to designate their franchise players, a gambit which allows ownership to hold on to one player who would have otherwise been an unrestricted free agent as of March 3rd. Another option allowed was the transition tag designation, which is what the Seahawks gave Hutchinson.
The differences between the two designations are pretty glaring – transition-tagged players like Hutchinson can accept offers from other teams when free agency begins next week, but the team extending the tag has the right to match any offer. In addition, players who are franchise-tagged earn a one-year guaranteed salary, which is the aggregate of the top five-paid players at his position. In Hutchinson’s case (and this is the primary reason guards aren’t usually tagged), this would encompass the top five offensive linemen, more expensive tackles included. Franchising Hutchinson would have cost the Seahawks $6.983 million in 2006, and every cent of that would have obviously counted against the salary cap.
Transition-tagged players earn the aggregate of the top ten-paid at their position, and this increased equation saved the Seahawks about $600,000 in the end. Hutchinson will earn $6.391 million if no team makes an offer the Seahawks do not see fit to match. The important difference, however, is that if such a scenario takes place, Seattle will receive no compensation upon Hutchinson’s departure. Were Hutchinson to be franchised, any team wanting to outdo Seattle would have to give up two first-round draft picks after signing him.
Essentially, Seattle seems to be betting that no matter how good Hutchinson is (and there’s a fairly legitimate argument to be made that he’s the best guard in the league) no team will give tackle money to a guard. That’s a fairly intelligent, though not foolproof, hypothesis.
2005’s best free agent guards, Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle (both formerly of Green Bay), hit the market running. Rivera wound up signing a five-year, $20 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys in early March of 2005. Wahle inked a five-year, $25 million deal with the Carolina Panthers.
Still, that’s peanuts compared to tackle money – witness the 7-year, $52.5 million contract given by the Seahawks to LT Walter Jones last year. Hutchinson’s talent and extreme potential might have him closer to Jones money than any other guard, but it’s a stretch to think that another team (say, the Arizona Cardinals) with loads of cap room and a horrific offensive line would swoop in and up the ante beyond all reason.
At least, that’s the hope in Seattle.
Hutchinson has professed a desire to stay in Seattle – he’s part of a great offensive line here, and in a larger sense, he’s an essential cog in an offense that is unstoppable when it fires on all cylinders. The team obviously would like him next to Walter Jones for the next few years – that tandem has become the most brutally effective left side in the NFL without question.
Now, it’s just a matter of who wins a game of “Chicken” for the services of this great player.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at email@example.com.