The arbitration hearing will question whether the Seahawks merely have to match the "relative terms" of the contract - seven years, $49 million with $16 million in guaranteed money and $13 million against the 2006 salary cap - or the "principal terms" of the offer sheet. The latter involves being the highest paid offensive lineman with his team in 2006. Last April, the Seahawks signed left tackle Walter Jones to a seven-year, $52.5 million deal, which eclipses the Vikings' offer to Hutchinson. Should the Seahawks match the offer sheet and Hutchinson is not the highest-paid offensive lineman in the first year of the deal, the entire $49 million would be guaranteed, as mandated by the offer sheet.
At the behest of the NFL, the case will be heard Monday by Stephen Burbank, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Our friends at VikingUpdate.com report that the reason the Vikings organization isn't being taken to task over the issue is that the clauses in question were proposed by Hutchinson's agent Tom Condon, according to sources.
What a source told Seahawks.NET on February 26, during the Scouting Combine, was that if the Philadelphia Eagles were to tender an offer to Hutchinson, some manner of "poison pill" would be included. In Philly's case, the roadblock would probably have been some manner of Machiavellian front-loading. However, when the new CBA was approved on March 8, the idea of merely front-loading a contract to eliminate competitors for a player's services lost a great deal of steam - the new agreement added over $7 million to every NFL squad's salary cap. This would seem to lend credence to the notion that the Vikings didn't put this together on their own - rather, that the idea was presented to them. It would seem, however, that the guaranteed portion of the offer sheet originated somewhere near the shores of Lake Minnetonka, on or around March 12th.
The Players' Association with argue in favor of the Vikings, citing precedent in 1993 when offensive lineman Will Wolford signed an offer sheet with the Colts. To show how far the NFL has come since then, the offer sheet was for three years and $7.65 million. Under the terms of the deal, it guaranteed that Wolford would be the highest-paid offensive player on the team. At the time, that was no problem for the Colts. But the Bills had QB Jim Kelly, who was earning twice that much. The NFL lost that case, which has NFLPA General Counsel Richard Berthelson convinced the Vikings will win.
For those expecting a final decision by Sunday, get used to the NFL of 2006 - it's going to be delayed.