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Revisiting the "Poison Pill"

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Since nothing of any real significance happened on the Vikings' front today, I'm going to go back to something that happened during last year's free agency period.  This is somewhat inspired by something that Brad over at Stampede Blue posted earlier on today.

Last year, at about this time, the Vikings signed offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson, then of the Seattle Seahawks, to an offer sheet worth $49 million over 7 years.  Hutchinson had been designated as the Seahawks' "Transition Player," meaning that a team could sign Hutchinson to an offer sheet, but the Seahawks could choose to match said offer sheet if they so desired.  If they chose NOT to match the offer sheet, then they'd lose Hutchinson without any compensation.

For the uninitiated, here's the difference between the "Franchise Player" tag and the "Transistion Player" tag.

A "Franchise Player" is given a one-year tender offer for an average of the salaries of the top 5 players at his position.  He can either sign said tender, or attempt to negotiate a long-term deal with his current employer.  If a team signs said player to an offer sheet and his current team chooses not to match, then the team losing the player gains compensation in the form of draft picks.

A "Transition Player," on the other hand, is given a one-year tender offer for an average of the salaries of the top 10 players at his position.  Again, he can sign the sheet, or continue negotiating.  If a team signs said player to an offer sheet and his current team chooses not to match, then the team losing the player gets no compensation.

So, there you go.  Anyway. . .back to our story.

The Vikings signed Hutchinson to an offer sheet, and the Seahawks appeard to be ready to match.  But there was a catch.  The Vikings had inserted a clause into the offer sheet that said if Hutchinson was NOT the highest paid offensive lineman on the team at any time, the entirety of the contract became guaranteed. . .all $49 million of it.  This wasn't a problem for the Vikings, as they didn't have any linemen making in the neighborhood of $7 million/year.

The Seahawks, on the other hand. . .well, they have this guy named Walter Jones.  You've probably heard of him. . .big left tackle, arguably one of the greatest ever at his position, yadda yadda yadda. . .well, it turns out that HE was making more than the deal Hutchinson was being offered.  Hence, had the Seahawks signed the offer sheet, Hutchinson's entire contract would have been guaranteed immediately, as he wouldn't have been the highest-paid OL on Seattle's roster.

Well. . .grievances were filed, complaints were aired, frogs rained down from the heavens, stuff like that.  The Seahawks even re-did Jones' contract so that it would be lower than Hutchinson's, but an arbiter ruled that the figures would be based on when Hutchinson signed the offer sheet, which basically meant Jones re-negotiated for nothing.  In the end, the Seahawks didn't match (obviously) and Hutchinson became a Viking with the Seahawks getting nothing in return.

To get "revenge" about a week later, the Seahawks signed Vikings' WR Nate Burleson to a similar $49 million, 7 year offer sheet.  In the offer sheet, a clause was inserted that would guarantee the entire contract if Burleson played five games in the state of Minnesota.  Obviously, the Vikings couldn't match that, and Burleson went to Seattle.  Except the Vikings got a third-round pick out of the deal, as Burleson was a RFA.  Burleson went on to become the most expensive #4 WR/return specialist in NFL history, making about $390,000 per reception (he had 18 catches in 2006) and $3.5 million per touchdown (he had 2).

Of course, the front office that got accused of being "dirty" and "underhanded" resides at Winter Park.  The funny thing is the fact that, through all the grievances and all the protests and everything else, nobody in authority came out and said that the Vikings did anything wrong.

You know why that is?  Because they didn't.

Everything the Vikings did in this situation was within the confines of the rules.  Had the Seahawks been that serious about keeping Hutchinson, they could have taken more serious steps to keep him.  For example, the difference between the Transition tag for a guard that year and the Franchise tag was approximately half a million dollars.  Had the Seahawks coughed up the extra $500K, there's no way the Vikings go after Hutchinson, because they weren't about to give up draft picks for him.

There were many front offices that could have made this same move and been labelled with such adjectives as "savvy" and "knowledgeable."  Since the Vikings made the move, they were labelled as "dirty" and "underhanded."  Any team could have done what the Vikings did. . .any team can STILL do what the Vikings did.  Why?  Because it's legal, that's why.

This isn't a charity, folks. . .the object of the game is to improve your team within the confines of the rules.  The Vikings did just that last year with the signing of Steve Hutchinson.

That's my view, anyway.