A league source tells us that the Seattle Seahawks plan to match the seven-year, $49 million offer sheet signed by guard Steve Hutchinson. On Sunday, the Vikings and Hutchinson reached agreement on the deal, which includes a cap number of more than $13 million in 2006 and a poison pill provision that will make the full contract guaranteed if Hutchinson is not the highest paid member of the team's offensive line.
The Seahawks, however, will not match this provision, which would result automatically in a full guarantee of the Hutchinson deal, due to the long-term contract signed a year ago by left tackle Walter Jones. Instead, the Seahawks will take the position that the guarantee is not a "Principal Term" of the offer, and that the term need not be matched in order to permit the Seahawks to retain their 2006 transition player.
Under the relevant provisions of the CBA, a provision guaranteeing the contract appears to be a "Principal Term." The Seahawks, however, might be able to argue that, as a procedural matter, a guarantee provision only is a "Principal Term" if the guarantee is reflected by a modification or addition to the offer sheet made by the player. Indeed, Article XIX, Section 3(e)(ii) seems to indicate that a guarantee becomes a "Principal Term" only if the player asks for the guarantee, and if the new team agrees.
The battle could, in the end, elevate form over substance, with the Seahawks arguing that the Vikings proposed the guarantee in order to defeat Seattle's ability to match the offer, and the Vikings arguing that it wasn't their idea and that Hutchinson and his agent asked for the guarantee.
Regardless, there most likely will be a battle, similar to the legal brouhaha that unfolded three years ago between the Redskins and the Jets regarding the rights to Chad Morton. In that case, the Jets failed to match one of the provisions of the offer sheet. Arbitrator Richard Bloch found that the unmatched provision was a "Principal Term," which meant that the Jets had not matched the offer, which meant that the Redskins received the rights to Morton.
This time around, the Seahawks are willing to take their chances as to the question of whether the guarantee is a "Principal Term." If they prevail, the Seahawks keep Hutchinson, without the guarantee. If the Seahawks lose, the Vikings will be awarded Hutchinson, with the potential guarantee in place (but with the guarantee meaningless since Hutchinson will be the highest paid offensive lineman on the team). Per Article XIX, Section 4 of the CBA, the arbitrator will be required to resolve the dispute within 10 days after the grievance is filed.
The Seahawks will receive no compensation for Hutchinson, if they fail to match the offer sheet.
I apologize if this has been posted before, I didn't see any news on this bumped to the top.