Sunday, March 12, 2006
Vikings sign All-Pro Hutchinson to offer sheet
MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings signed All-Pro Steve Hutchinson to the richest offer sheet for a guard in NFL history Sunday, the latest move in their aggressive approach to free agency.
The Vikings offered Hutchinson a seven-year deal worth $49 million, with $16 million in guaranteed money, a person close to the negotiations told The Associated Press. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal hasn't been completed.
The Seattle Seahawks placed the transition tag on Hutchinson in the offseason, giving them a week to match the deal or lose him to the Vikings without compensation.
With $31 million in salary cap room, the Vikings have been one of the fastest teams out of the gate in free agency. They signed running back Chester Taylor, kicker Ryan Longwell and linebacker Ben Leber on Saturday, the first full day the market opened. They also re-signed receiver Koren Robinson, who made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner.
The Vikings decided on signing Taylor, Jamal Lewis' backup in Baltimore to a four-year, $14.1 million contract that includes $5.6 million in guarantees, a relatively modest deal for a No. 1 running back. They resisted going after higher-priced backs like Lewis and Edgerrin James, perhaps so they could save up money to make such an enormous offer to Hutchinson, who would shore up their offensive line.
Hutchinson arrived in the Twin Cities for a visit Saturday night and signed the offer sheet Sunday afternoon. Getting him would be a big boost for the Vikings, whose offensive line was injury-riddled and inconsistent last season.
But with former Pro Bowl center Matt Birk coming back after missing all of last season after hip surgery and the possibility of putting Hutchinson, one of the best guards in the league, alongside an improving Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, things are looking up.
This season, Hutchinson and Walter Jones led a Seahawks rushing attack that paved the way for NFL rushing champion Shaun Alexander, who had a team-record 1,880 yards and a league-record 28 touchdowns.
The Seahawks refused to comment Sunday, preferring to let their seven-day window to match the offer play out. Seattle entered the weekend about $17 million below the league's $102 million salary cap for 2006. With such a large offer on the table, however, the Vikings have made it as difficult as can be for the Seahawks, who have already put a lot of money into their offense.
The NFC champions gave Jones $20 million in guaranteed money and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck $16 million last season before giving Alexander $15.1 million guaranteed last week.
Seahawks president Tim Ruskell elected to place the transition tag on Hutchinson, a three-time Pro Bowler and former Michigan standout, rather than making him the franchise player, a move that could be costly.
Had the Seahawks made Hutchinson their franchise player, the Vikings would have had to give up two first-round picks as compensation should Seattle not match the offer.
AP Sports Writer Gregg Bell contributed to this report.