While there is plenty of bemoaning to be done in regards to how the Vikings have handled the offensive line in past years, leading to the catastrophe that nearly got our QBOTF killed last season, there is one thing we can all agree the Vikings got right- the ‘theft' of one Mr. Steve Hutchinson from the Seattle Seahawks back in the 2006 free agency. (As a side note- how has all of the Seahawk's attempts at ‘revenge' via snatching up our receivers gone? I swear there's a curse, they all end up injured.) Hutchinson was, for a long time, a bright spot in the growing dim that was our O-line, and I would even dare say that his career may be worthy of some Hall of Fame consideration one day.
Sadly, that said, numbers don't lie. Numbers like 34- his current age- and 6.95 million- what his salary for 2012 will be, the last year on his contract. And while these numbers on the surface might not always mean a lot, they do in this case. Hutch's age is starting to show, in the form of both injuries (two seasons in a row now he has missed games due to injuries, including a concussion), as well as a decline in his usual awesomeness. And for a team looking to get younger, and make a massive roster turnover, that salary hit is going to be a big deal, as Chris pointed out in his recent article regarding the space we'll have to make at least one or two big splashes in free agency. (Although, let's not go overboard with that. I refer you to my Nostradamus-style prediction regarding the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason.)
That all said- let's not jump the gun in terms of cutting Hutch, however. If Hutchinson were to be released by the team, he would likely find himself in a similar situation to former players Pat Williams and Bernard Berrian. (Not to really compare those two, by any means- Phat Pat was and still remains the man. BB? Not so much.) What are the odds that he will be picked up by another team? Slim, I would say. And I doubt Hutch feels differently. In all likelihood, with that consideration, a contract re-negotiation is probably not out of the question.
Let's continue this thought after the Leap of Faith, and get your thoughts on what we should do with
I understand that there may not be a lot of point in keeping Hutchinson around. His skills have been fading and his reliability to take the field is as well. And for a player of his age, that's likely to only become worse, not better, in 2012. And I understand again that we're looking to get younger, not keep an aging group of veterans, once superstars but now fading, together. And with that in mind, a good argument can be made to simply say "thank you" for all he's done, and give him a handshake as he heads out the door.
But who are we going to replace him with? Our entire O-line outside of center is due for a major overhaul. Even if we end up getting Matt Kalil in the draft, that's only one position solved- two, if we move Charlie Johnson to guard; but even that second move is really not much more than a stopgap for now. There's rumblings that Anthony Herrera might be seeing the cutting block too, so that means Johnson would likely take that place. Joe Berger is there to fill in at left guard- but is he any sort of a long term answer, or even a considerable upgrade over Hutch?
Let's also keep in mind that, despite fading skills, Hutchinson does still retain one key value- veteran experience. Right now, he's really the only person on our line that has that form of leadership. Sure, some of the other players are ‘vets', but only in terms of time in the league- Hutch is the vet with a successful career, the one who brings that knowledge to the table. If we're getting younger along the O-line- which we need to be- then there might be some value in having his leadership around for one more season to help some of the rookies grow. Even Kalil will be a bit of a ‘diamond in the rough' his first season out: left tackle, like quarterback, often takes a season or two to truly develop.
There's good arguments for both sides of this debate. Hutchinson is quickly becoming a shadow of his former self, and he needs to have a restructured salary to stick around. But, if he does restructure, there might be some real value in having him stick around for just one more season while our offensive line makes the transition from beat-up piece of swiss cheese to the impenetrable, dominant line that gives Christian Ponder/ Joe Webb some "Tom Brady Time" to throw the football. (OK, not ‘TBT' in terms of the last Super Bowl... but seriously, in the vast majority of games, that guy has time to text his receivers a route change.)
What say you, fellow Viking faithful? Yes, the contract renegotiation is a given- it has to be done if we're keeping Hutchinson around, he's simply not worth nearly 7 mil right now, especially with our team in the second year of reloading. But if he does agree to renegotiate- would it still be the right move to keep him around for 2012, not worry about LOG for one more season while we address the other three positions of need, and have his veteran savvy help the kids grow into men?