Vikings make $49 million offer to Pro Bowl guard

  • Article by: Mark Craig
  • Star Tribune
  • March 12, 2006 - 11:34 PM

Coach Brad Childress has said from Day 1 that linemen are his top priority. On Sunday, the Vikings put their money where his mouth is, signing Seahawks All-Pro Steve Hutchinson to a transition free-agent offer sheet that will make him the highest-paid guard in NFL history.

The question now is whether the Vikings or Seahawks end up on the hook for the seven-year, $49 million deal, which includes $16 million in guaranteed money and counts a whopping $13 million against the 2006 salary cap. Seattle has seven days to match the offer or let the 28-year-old Hutchinson become the Vikings' starting left guard between center Matt Birk and left tackle Bryant McKinnie.

The creative offer sheet will test the Seahawks' cap discipline.

They entered free agency with about $17 million in cap space ansd still have needs at cornerback and receiver. Seattle's highest cap numbers now are the roughly $7 million apiece for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and left tackle Walter Jones.

Hutchinson already counts $6.983 million against the cap because of his transition tag. If Seattle matches the offer, it would lose about $6 million in cap space.

On the field, the offer threatens to break up what is widely considered the best blocking tandem in the NFL. The powerful 6-5, 313-pound Hutchinson, a two-time first-team All-Pro, and the agile 6-5, 315-pound Jones helped lead Seattle to a 13-3 record and Super Bowl XL this past season.

Seattle team officials declined to comment, preferring to take the seven days to react to the offer sheet. The Vikings also had no comment, other than to confirm that an offer sheet had been signed.

The Vikings entered free agency with a league-high $31 million in cap space before signing kicker Ryan Longwell, outside linebacker Ben Leber and running back Chester Taylor on Saturday.

They can absorb Hutchinson's contract with room to pursue a starting strong safety. Buccaneers former Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson, who played in the Cover-2 scheme under new Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin in Tampa Bay, was scheduled to fly from Cincinnati to Minnesota for a visit today.

"Our philosophy in free agency will always be to supplement the places where we have needs," Childress said Saturday while speaking in general terms about free agency.

Hutchinson, a five-year veteran, was the 17th overall pick in the 2001 draft. He's a three-time Pro Bowl selection with a no-nonsense work ethic and solid character.

The Vikings targeted him at the outset of free agency Friday night. He was spotted at Manny's restaurant in downtown Minneapolis with Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on Saturday night. By Sunday afternoon, he had signed the sort of deal for an offensive lineman that only left tackles have signed before. Jones signed a seven-year deal last year that was similar in total compensation.

The Seahawks were willing to offer Hutchinson a long-term deal that averaged about $5.8 million a year.

Cowboys guard Larry Allen's average of $6.1 million a year was the most for a guard until Hutchinson put pen to paper in Minneapolis on Sunday.

Culpepper deal on hold

It appeared Sunday night that a trade of quarterback Daunte Culpepper was still on hold until Chargers free-agent quarterback Drew Brees determines where he wants to play first.

Brees left New Orleans on Sunday without accepting a deal from the Saints. He flew to Miami and was scheduled to talk with Dolphins officials Sunday night and today.

"I'm not going to rush it because this is a big decision," Brees said during a news conference in New Orleans. "Wherever I sign is where I plan on spending the rest of my career and winning a few championships in the process and raising a family and everything else. It's more than just a one-year thing."

The Dolphins reportedly have the most interest in trading for Culpepper, but only if they don't land Brees.

Packers' Nall to visit

Packers free-agent third-string quarterback Craig Nall is in the Twin Cities and will meet with the Vikings today. He would be a candidate to back up Brad Johnson if Culpepper is traded or released.

Nall, 26, has played six games in five seasons since the Packers drafted him in the fifth round out of Northwestern (La.) State in 2002. He was Brett Favre's backup for most of 2004 but was the inactive third-string quarterback for 16 games in 2005 after the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round.

Staff Writer Kevin Seifert contributed to this report.

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