Top Guard Answers Free Agent Questions

Two of the top offensive free agents at their positions are participating in Super Bowl XL, and it just so happens that the Vikings could use help in both areas. See what guard Steve Hutchinson, widely considered the top guard scheduled for free agency, had to say about his situation.

NFL MVP Shaun Alexander might be the most sought-after free agent in March if the Seattle Seahawks are unable to sign him, but Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson is also considered one of the top three or four guards in the league today, and the Minnesota Vikings may be in the market for a guard, especially one of Hutchinson's athletic and mental caliber.

"Steve Hutchinson is underrated," Alexander said about his teammate. "People know he is good, but they don't understand that he is smart. He makes audibles and calls like he would be at center. He adjusts his own move—running and seeing one guy fall to the ground and another guy that is blocked and he can adjust to get more blocks down field. He is a great player."

The Vikings have a need on the offensive line after that position struggled to find consistency during the 2005 season. The expected return of center Matt Birk should help, but both guard spots and even right tackle have an air of unknown in them. Center, right guard and right tackle each had two players making at least four starts at those positions, and left guard had three starters throughout the season.

The Seahawks likely will try to re-sign Hutchinson, but it's also possible that they place the franchise tag on him should they not be able to reach a new deal before the start of free agency.
Hutchinson said this week he didn't know the status of his contract and "could care less for another week," but with free agency one month away, the situation will have to be addressed shortly after the Super Bowl if the Seahawks are to avoid letting him reach the open market on March 3.

For his part, Hutchinson has simply tried to avoid thinking about his contract most of the season, he said.

"I made a point before the season – if we could get it done prior to the season, that would have been great. But as soon as the season started, it was put on the back-burner for me to be able to concentrate on the season, this team and get where we are today," Hutchinson said.

Of course, being part of a Super Bowl team doesn't hurt his chances of thinking fondly of the Seattle organization. He said he loves his teammates, his wife likes the change of seasons in Seattle, they have a house in area, the move would be a hassle … but, then again, the NFL is a business to the teams and to the players.

Seahawks tackle Walter Jones and Alexander have both dealt with the pitfalls of this time of year in 2005, with Alexander getting the franchise tag, worth $6.3 million, and Jones getting a contract that runs through 2011 but doesn't start paying more than $2 million in base salary until 2008. Both were five-star and top-five free agents, according to Scout.com, in 2005.

Hutchinson said the tensions of contract uncertainty never showed in Jones' case the previous two seasons.

"Walt never showed any signs of being worried about it prior to signing the six-, seven-year deal he did," Hutchinson said. "Even when he was getting franchised the year before that, not really getting a long-term deal, he never let it show. So if it was bothering him or he was anxious about it, I couldn't tell."

Now it is Hutchinson's turn. Since Alexander has a clause in his contract that prohibits him from being franchised again this March, Hutchinson might end up with that tag. The Seahawks might also be forced to settle for one or the other, Alexander or Hutchinson, and in that case there will be plenty of NFL teams waiting for the "castoff" with open arms and open wallets.



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