Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Seahawks, Part II

Viking Update's Tim Yotter asks Doug Farrar of Seahawks.NET about Seattle's struggles on the offensive line, last week's loss impacting this week's contest, Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson. Get up to speed on the Vikings' opponent Saturday night.

Tim Yotter: Obviously, the offensive line had tremendous struggles against Green Bay last week. Was that just because of Walter Jones and Sean Locklear were missing or are there greater concerns for the line even once they return?

Doug Farrar:
The absence of Jones and Sean Locklear was the primary problem, but the resulting debacle outlined another problem for the Seahawks - an alarming lack of depth on the offensive line. Locklear will return from a small vacation caused by knee tendonitis to man the left tackle position, which is Jones' usual spot. Tom Ashworth, who was decent at right tackle when Locklear missed time last year, has proven to be a disaster at left tackle. Ray Willis will see more time on the right.

If Jones and Locklear stay healthy all season, the line should be in good shape. But that's a lot to ask of Jones, who's 33 and played all last season on a sprained ankle, and Locklear, who has had his own injury issues. The dropoff from starter to backup is steep.

Tim Yotter: One year later, how is Steve Hutchinson viewed among the players, fans and front office in Seattle, and are most people more upset with him or the organization over losing him?

Doug Farrar:
The bad feelings have been mitigated to a point by the arrival of Rob Sims, Seattle's fourth-round draft pick in 2006. The Ohio State rookie looked good all season, and he started the last three regular-season games and both playoff games with distinction at left guard. He'll be there all season, and while he's no Hutchinson, he's got a great deal of potential - plus, he's a great deal with a $360,000 base salary and the average fourth-round pick signing bonus.

I suspect that the public blame is equally divided between the Seahawks' front office for lowballing Hutchinson in the first place, Hutchinson himself for being less than honest about the deals his agent was putting together (not to mention disregarding the gesture Jones tried to make by lowering his own salary so that Hutchinson could be the highest-paid player on the team), and agent Tom Condon, who brokered the whole thing.

If you ask me, the fault lies in two places. With the Seahawks, for not realizing Hutchinson's value - a year later Leonard Freakin' Davis has a similar contract - and with the NFL, for proving inflexible and opposing a timeframe for the Seahawks to match Minnesota's offer. In 1971, Pete Rozelle negated the trade of Duane Thomas from Dallas to New England because it wasn't in the best interests of the league and Thomas proved to be impossible for the Patriots to deal with. The voided salary-dump trades that Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley tried to put together in the mid-1970s are infamous.

A corporation, and any arbiter who represents a corporation, has an obligation to consider more than just the language of a contract - there is the spirit and the letter. Refusing to allow Seattle time to match an offer because the language of the contract said that the terms must be met when the offer sheet was signed was irresponsible and short-sighted. At the very least, there should have been some consideration given to the fact that when Seattle was dealing with Hutchinson, the ongoing CBA negotiations had every team wondering just what their salary cap would be. That variable should have outweighed the existing language.

I blame neither Condon nor Hutchinson. Both men had a responsibility to make sure that Hutchinson was well-compensated for his services, and that's what they did. The NFL made it possible for them to do it the way they did it.

Tim Yotter: Considering the loss last week, do you first of all expect Matt Hasselbeck to play more than a half this game even though Walter Jones is out, and do you think this game means more to the Seahawks after a brutal loss?

Doug Farrar:
According to Mike Holmgren, the starters will play most of the first half, if not a bit longer. Most likely, that has more to do with the fact that the fourth preseason game will be more about final looks at the final cuts, as this one is about having the veterans blowing the dust off now that training camp is over.

The loss was more worrisome from the perspective that so many players looked downright rotten. It was obvious that the Packers were gameplanning more than the Seahawks were - you don't send cornerback blitzes and challenge fumbles when you're up by four touchdowns unless you're trying to prove a point. The score itself meant less to Holmgren than the incidents leading to the score.

Tim Yotter: It sounds like Nate Burleson is doing much better this year in Seattle. What do you anticipate his offensive role to be this year and will he continue to be the main return man in 2007 if he has a larger role on offense?

Doug Farrar:
Nate is challenging for time in the starting three, but his role is inconclusive at this time. When camp started, it was assumed that D.J. Hackett would have the starting job opposite Deion Branch, but Burleson has been the more impressive player in practice and through the preseason. Rookie cornerback Josh Wilson will add to the return teams, though Burleson's skill in that department makes him very valuable. My guess is that this question will be answered to a great extent by what happens against the Vikings at Qwest Field.

Tim Yotter: Looking at last year's statistics, the Vikings and Seahawks were nearly equally as poor on offense. What happened in Seattle in 2006 after coming off of a Super Bowl season?

Doug Farrar:
Pretty much everything that could go wrong, did. Injuries and the loss of Hutchinson decimated the offensive line. Injuries to Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander blew away any continuity. The offense rebounded toward the end of the season, but it was a very bumpy ride. The Seahawks team of 2005 that blew enemy defenses off the line and tortured them with long drive after long drive is a thing of the past. The offense will have to be more diverse and opportunistic in 2007 to benefit from the talent that's still there.

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