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Sunday, March 12, 2006
Vikings sign Hutchinson to gigantic offer sheet

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Seattle Seahawks star Steve Hutchinson, designated as a transition free agent by the NFC champions, has signed an offer sheet with the Minnesota Vikings that will make him the highest paid guard in NFL history, ESPN.com has learned.

The offer sheet is for seven years, at $49 million, and includes $16 million in guarantees. Once the offer sheet is executed, Seattle will have seven days to match all its principle terms, or allow Hutchinson to move to the Vikings. If the Seahawks do not match it, they will receive no draft-pick compensation.

How rich is the Vikings' deal, negotiated by Tom Condon and Ken Kremer of IMG Football, for the five-year veteran guard? Consider this: Only three NFL offensive tackles, a position that is always paid much higher than guards, can match Hutchinson's average of $7 million. Larry Allen of Dallas, currently the league's highest-paid guard, averages $6.1 million on his Cowboys contract.

It is believed that, before the start of the free agency period, Seattle was offering Hutchinson an average of $5.8 million per year.

Seattle opted to use the less expensive transition designation on Hutchinson, rather than the franchise tag, and the difference is significant. In most cases, the franchise marker is enough to scare off any suitors, because the level of compensation is a pair of first-round draft choices. The transition label carries no compensation and it is easier for veterans under that marker to attract other teams.

Under the current system, implemented in 1993, just three franchise players have ever switched teams in free agency. During the same period, 18 transition players have changed teams.

By signing Hutchinson to the offer sheet, the Vikings, who entered the free agency period with $30.9 million in available salary cap room, second-most in the league, are remaining aggressive as the club attempts to upgrade the roster under first-year coach Brad Childress. The Vikings broke from the chute quickly on Saturday, either signing or reaching agreements with five players.

Hutchinson, 28, would certainly provide the kind of toughness and mauler's mentality the Vikings have lacked on their offensive line, and would team with tackle Bryant McKinnie to give Minnesota one of the best leftside blocking tandems in the league.

A first-round choice in the 2001 draft, Hutchinson is a three-time Pro Bowl performer. The former University of Michigan star has appeared in 68 games, all of them starts, and has played all 16 games in all but the 2002 campaign. That year, a broken leg limited Hutchinson to four appearances.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.