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Hutchinson's poison pill still makes Seahawks, NFL sick

SEATTLE - Matt Hasselbeck misses Steve Hutchinson's leadership and intimidation.

Mike Holmgren, in his 36th consecutive year of coaching football, misses "really one of the best linemen I've ever been around."

Robbie Tobeck misses his best friend.

The Vikings' tricky "poison pill" contract clause that snatched All-Pro Hutchinson from Seattle in March hasn't exactly killed the Seahawks - they are 4-1 and back atop the NFC West heading into Sunday's game with Minnesota (3-2) and its new left guard.

But it's definitely made them sick.

"Yeah, I hate him. We all hate him," Hasselbeck said, laughing and joking that he also misses Hutchinson's dark, flowing hair.

"He's kind of one of those guys that is impossible to hate," the Pro Bowl quarterback said.

"We know that he wanted to be back here. For three years he complained and whined, because he is an offensive lineman and that's what offensive linemen do, saying how he wishes he could sign a deal."

Last spring, that wish came true.

Seattle made its first-round draft choice in 2001 its transition player due for a mandated one-year contract. Hutchinson was miffed the Seahawks hadn't already given him a multiyear deal, as they had for left tackle Walter Jones a year earlier. So he signed Minnesota's free agent offer sheet worth $49 million over seven years, with a $16 million signing bonus.

Seattle had the right to match, but the richest deal ever for a guard proved too pricey even for team owner and software gazillionaire Paul Allen.

Minnesota and Hutchinson's agent, Tom Condon, created unprecedented clauses which stipulated the entire contract would become guaranteed if Hutchinson was not the highest-paid lineman on his team. So Seattle would have had to give him a deal at least equal to Jones' average annual salary of $7.5 million - unheard of for a guard - or guarantee all $49 million, unheard of for anybody.

The Seahawks lost an arbitrator's ruling over whether Minnesota's contract violated the league's collective bargaining agreement, then declined to match.

"Hutch made out like a bandit," Hasselbeck said, admiringly.

Holmgren said that "as far as the structure of any contract like that, I don't think clubs should do that."

"There are loopholes, and you get some smart guys figuring out how to do things ... but to me it's against the spirit of the rule," said the coach who was Seattle's general manager from 1999-2002. "I would hope that it wouldn't happen again to anybody, not just us, but anybody."

The Hutchinson contract issue, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, "was one of many things discussed with the players association that was not resolved" during negotiations on the new CBA, which was finalized in March.

NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen said the league would not concede other areas of the CBA where the union wanted gains in exchange for closing the loophole. Rather than delay the entire CBA and potentially have a work stoppage, the two sides tabled the issue.

The new CBA isn't up for renewal until 2011. Berthelsen didn't rule out a revisiting of the issue before free agency begins again in March.

The union, of course, thinks poison pill clauses like Hutchinson's are pure genius.

"There's no reason for players not to use them," Berthelsen said.

The Seahawks could have made all this moot had they given Hutchinson the more restrictive franchise-player designation. But they didn't want to spend tackle-like millions on a guard after re-signing Jones to a $52.5 million, seven-year extension the previous spring.

Offensive linemen with franchise-player designations must be offered a one-year salary at the average of the top five of all blockers, regardless of position.

"Obviously we didn't want to lose Steve. If we'd known then what we know now, we certainly would have done it a different way," Holmgren said.

The Vikings wouldn't have.

They were 25th in the NFL in total offense last season and 27th in rushing. Now, with Hutchinson and left tackle Bryant McKinnie blocking for emerging runner Chester Taylor, Minnesota is 12th overall and 17th in rushing.

"He's a beauty," center Matt Birk said of Hutchinson. "I think he's as good as there is at that position."

First-year coach Brad Childress said Hutchinson "changes the line of scrimmage."

His leaving changed Seattle's OL. The Seahawks have gone without a touchdown in two of five games. Last season, they led the league in scoring.

First-year starter Chris Spencer, drafted in 2005 as a center, is struggling with holding penalties, false starts and allowing sacks as the fill-in for Hutchinson's replacement, injured Floyd Womack.

Detroit beat up league MVP Shaun Alexander in the season opener. Alexander kept playing on a badly bruised foot, which he eventually cracked during a Sept. 24 win over the New York Giants. Alexander will miss the third game of his career on Sunday and remains out indefinitely.

And Hasselbeck has been sacked 17 times through five games. He was sacked just 27 times last season.

Still, Holmgren doesn't begrudge Hutchinson.

"It's hard for me to be too mad at him because he's one of my favorite guys of all time."
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