The Seattle Seahawks and Vikings just don't seem to be able to play nice.
Four days after losing Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson to the Vikings, the Seahawks fired back Friday by signing restricted free-agent receiver Nate Burleson to a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet. If those numbers look familiar that is because they are identical to what Hutchinson received in his offer.
The difference is guaranteed money. While Hutchinson's contract had $16 million guaranteed, Burleson's guaranteed money is $5.25 million and the contract is structured so it likely will be redone after three or four seasons.
Evidently upset that the Vikings would not accept a third-round pick in a trade for Burleson -- Minnesota wanted a second-rounder -- Seattle inserted two "poison pills" guaranteeing the entire $49 million if Burleson plays a certain number of games in the state of Minnesota, or if his average per year exceeds the average of the highest-paid running back on the team. That's not going to happen in Seattle, which has NFL MVP Shaun Alexander.
The Vikings, of course, used a "poison pill" to make it all but impossible for Seattle to retain Hutchinson. Having had a special master rule in their favor Monday in regard to the contract language used in the Hutchinson deal, it seems unlikely the Vikings will challenge the Seahawks' offer.
Neither the Vikings nor Seahawks commented Friday.
Minnesota will have seven days to decide whether to match or lose Burleson and acquire the Seahawks' third-round pick in next month's draft. Seattle's selection is low in the round because it advanced to the Super Bowl but would give the Vikings five choices in the first three rounds, meaning Minnesota would have plenty of ammunition to try to move up.
For Burleson, this gives him the opportunity to go home. The 24-year-old, a multisport star at O'Dea High School, was named the Seattle Athlete of the year in 1999.
The Vikings surprised some March 2 by extending the lowest possible qualifying offer to Burleson. The tender was worth $712,000 and would result in the team getting a draft pick equal to the round in which Burleson was selected. Shortly thereafter, he changed agents and hired Ken Sarnoff. Burleson visited the Seahawks last week.
Taken with 71st pick overall in 2003, Burleson appeared to come into his own in 2004. He led Vikings wide receivers with 68 catches for 1,006 yards with nine touchdowns. Expected to become the team's No. 1 receiver last season, Burleson struggled with injuries and finished with 30 catches for 328 yards and a touchdown in 12 games.
Without Burleson, the Vikings depth chart at receiver would include Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson, Koren Robinson and Troy Williamson. Koren Robinson played for the Seahawks before joining the Vikings last September.
The back-and-forth between the Vikings and Seattle began March 12 when Minnesota extended an offer sheet to Hutchinson, who had been designated the Seahawks' transition player. That gave Seattle the right to match any offer, but the Vikings inserted a clause that Hutchinson's contract would become guaranteed if he was not the highest-paid offensive lineman on his team at the time of the offer. Thus triggering Seattle's use of its own "poison pills."
Cowart moving on
Veteran Sam Cowart, who led the Vikings with 104 tackles last season and provided much-needed stability at middle linebacker, agreed to a contract with Houston.
"After looking at all the teams that showed interest, this came down to the best choice at this time," Cowart's agent, Paul Healy, said in an e-mail.
Strong safety Tank Williams, one of three free agents to sign with the Vikings on Thursday, received a one-year deal that has reachable incentives and will put the deal around $900,000. ... Vikings running back Adimchinobe Echemandu signed his exclusive rights tender, which calls for $425,000. ... Guard Stephen Neal, whom the Vikings had in for a free-agent visit, decided to remain with the New England Patriots.