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Seattle loses hearing, lets Hutchinson go

SEATTLE (March 20, 2006) -- The Seattle Seahawks said no thanks to Steve Hutchinson.

The Seahawks were told they needed to match the guarantee provision in the seven-year Minnesota offer to their All-Pro guard if they wanted to keep him.

A team official for the NFC champions confirmed they let the league's midnight ET deadline pass without doing anything, making one of the keys to their Super Bowl season now the highest-paid Vikings lineman.

In fact, Hutchinson's agent, Tom Condon, said the Seahawks never contacted him about possibly matching the offer after Hutchinson signed the unprecedented offer sheet March 12.

When asked if Hutchinson wanted to leave the team that drafted him 17th overall out of Michigan in 2001, Condon said: "Not at all. I think that there wasn't any reason for him to leave Seattle.

"Nevertheless, Minnesota really stepped out for him."

The Vikings' seven-year contract became binding at 12:01 a.m. ET on March 21. It is the richest deal ever given to a guard.

A league spokesman and an attorney for the NFL players' union confirmed that a special master ruled against Seattle, saying a provision guaranteeing all of the money in the offer sheet Hutchinson signed with Minnesota should he not be the team's highest-paid offensive lineman is valid.

"The Seahawks lost," NFL Players Association general counsel Richard Berthelsen said.

The two teams had declined comment on the ruling.

Berthelsen attended the two-hour hearing in Philadelphia before special master Stephen Burbank, who ruled on the matter.

The Seahawks had argued that because they recently re-negotiated Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones' seven-year contract by adding an eighth, voidable year, Jones' team-best lineman deal now has an annual value below that of Hutchinson's offer.

After the re-negotiation, Jones' annual base salary would dip to $6.81 million -- just below Hutchinson's $7 million annual average had Seattle matched Minnesota's offer. Thus, the Seahawks argued they should not have to guarantee the rest of Hutchinson's new deal.

Berthelsen said Burbank did not elaborate in his ruling.

But Berthelsen said the decision validated the NFLPA's stance that the conditions at the time Hutchinson signed the offer sheet with the Vikings are the conditions Seattle must match -- meaning Hutchinson wasn't the highest-paid Seahawks lineman then, so Seattle must guarantee all of the Vikings' deal to match it.

"They wanted to put in additional language to make it from any point from now until the end of the 2006 league year," Berthelsen said. "That is contrary to the intent of the wording that was in the contract.

"And the special master agreed."

The Seahawks now have $6.39 million more to spend on potential free agents -- money they had been obligated to tender to Hutchinson once they made him their transition player last month.

Seattle has offered a first-round draft pick for Jets defensive end John Abraham, who wants a long-term deal. The Jets are still mulling that offer for their franchise player.

Some of the money freed by Hutchinson leaving could be used to sign his replacement. Versatile veteran Floyd Womack, who started 22 games at tackle and guard in his first four Seattle seasons before he lost his right-tackle job, currently is in line to replace Hutchinson.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2006, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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