Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Nate Burleson, left, hauls in a pass above the New York Giants' Gibril Wilson during the second quarter at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Sunday, Nov. 13, 2005. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
This move is a clear and hilarious message of payback for the terms of Hutchinson's offer sheet/contract.
Burleson caught 68 passes for 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns in 2004. His numbers decreased last season as injuries limited him to nine games. Still, the Seahawks believe he will fit in perfectly to their offensive scheme. The offer sheet has an interesting history of its own.
The Seahawks wanted to re-sign Hutchinson this off-season, but he thought the team wasn't aggressive enough in pursuing him before free agency. As a result, he had no trouble accepting a Minnesota offer he knew Seattle would have trouble matching.
The seven-year, $49 million deal would have been guaranteed had the Seahawks matched, as was their right given Hutchinson's status as a transition player. The thought of guaranteeing $49 million to a quarterback seemed unlikely enough, but there was no way Seattle was going to set aside that kind of loot for a guard. And with a first-year cap number north of $13.3 million, Hutchinson's offer was designed to make him a Viking.
The Seahawks let that happen without so much as a we-wish-Steve-well public acknowledgement.
"They really didn't pursue me as hard as I thought they would," Hutchinson said. "I was assuming that, well, maybe they are just going to franchise me. And that didn't happen.
"When you are pretty sure that some things are going to happen and then they don't, it makes you wonder if maybe they wanted to go a different route or what. It worked out."
Did it ever. Hutchinson's new deal with the Vikings included a $10 million signing bonus and a 2006 roster bonus for $6 million. He stands to earn more money than any guard in NFL history. And he isn't losing any sleep over the clause that prevented Seattle from matching. "I knew about the clause," Hutchinson said. "I knew it would be hard for Seattle to match, but again, I did what I thought was best for me and my family."
NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelson thought the Seahawks were on thin ice when they challenged the clause that would have forced them to guarantee Steve Hutchinson's contract. The clause guaranteed the contract if Hutchinson weren't the highest-paid offensive lineman on his team, a distinction belonging to Seattle's LT Walter Jones. The Seahawks even reworked Jones' deal to drop his average-per-year below the Vikings' offer to Hutchinson, but the ploy did not fly.
"Their plan was to argue that the offer sheet should be interpreted to be saying he only had to be the highest-paid player at any time in the year, not when the offer sheet was executed," Berthelson said. "It was a pretty fractured interpretation of the language and the special master didn't buy it."
After losing Hutchinson, the Seahawks landed an offensive lineman with more face recognition. T Tom Ashworth hasn't been to any Pro Bowls, but he did appear in those Visa commercials with his former New England teammates, notably QB Tom Brady.
The Seahawks aren't yet sure where they'll use Ashworth on the line, but they were glad to add a starting-caliber player up front. Ashworth started 30 regular-season games in four season for the Patriots, mostly at right tackle.
The kicker in this story came when the Seahawks turned the tables on Minnesota with their almost comical offer to Burleson. According to Mike Sando of the Tacoma News Tribune, Seattle was goaded into making a statement when they offered to trade their third-round draft pick for Burleson and Minnesota demanded Seattle's second-round pick instead.
Seattle inserted two "poison-pill" clauses in retaliation for the tactics Minnesota used. The Burleson offer amounts to a three- or four-year deal with about $5 million in guarantees. But Seattle backloaded the offer so its overall parameters - seven years and $49 million - matched what Hutchinson received from Minnesota.
The Hutchinson deal included a clause that would have forced Seattle to guarantee the entire contract. Seattle did the same thing with Burleson's deal. One clause guarantees the deal if Burleson plays in five games within Minnesota. Another clause guarantees the deal if Burleson's salary exceeds the salary of the highest-paid running back on his team in terms of average per year.
Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander has a deal averaging better than $7 million per year, while the Vikings have no running back close to that average. It all adds up to Burleson almost certainly becoming a Seahawk. Seattle will have to send its third-round pick to the Vikings as compensation because Burleson is a restricted free agent drafted in that round and tendered at the minimum level.