The Seahawks, however, are expected to jump in the free agency water with everything they've got - approximately $20 million in cap room. The first salvo was the signing of former San francisco 49ers LB Julian Peterson to a multi-year contract. The deal is expected to be for 7 years and $54 million, with $18.5 million in guaranteed money. Other possibilities include New York Jets DE John Abraham and Minnesota Vikings WR Nate Burleson.
The Seahawks may not replace Hutchinson, a three-time Pro Bowler, in free agency. They may go with depth or the draft.
The NFL announced Monday afternoon that the Seahawks couldn't change a principal term of the offer sheet signed by Hutchinson with the Vikings. The Seahawks had until 11:00 PM CST to decide whether to match the offer sheet or allow Hutchinson to flee to Minnesota.
The Seahawks had produced a surprise on Monday morning during a hearing to determine the future of Hutchinson.
In front of Stephen Burbank, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, the Seahawks did not argue the legality of a so-called "poison-pill" clause that would guarantee all of Hutchinson's $49 million offer sheet if he does not have the highest annual average salary of any offensive lineman on his team in 2006.
Instead, the Seahawks revealed they had renegotiated the contract of left tackle Walter Jones, according to NFLPA General Counsel Richard Berthelsen, who represented Hutchinson at the hearing. Jones' contract now averages less than $7 million annually -- a move the Seahawks argued would allow them to match the offer sheet without triggering the clause. Jones' contract previously averaged $7.5 million a year.
But Burbank decided that the changes the Seahawks were attempting to make would have changed a principal term of the offer sheet.
The Seahawks instigated the dispute two days before they were required to match or pass on the Vikings' seven-year, $49 million offer sheet. The Seahawks were supposedly set to argue the legality of the so-called "poison pill" clause. If another player had a higher figure, the clause guarantees the entire $49 million contract, making it one of the richest deals in league history. The stipulation was inserted by Hutchinson's agent, Tom Condon, and agreed to by the Vikings, as a tool to prevent the Seahawks from matching the offer -- which is their right under the NFL's rules for transition players.
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.
The NFL released a statement in regard to the Hutchinson case on Monday afternoon:
Special master Stephen Burbank has determined that the additional language that the Seahawks proposed to include in the Steve Hutchinson contract would alter a principle term of the Vikings' offer sheet.
The Seahawks have until midnight Eastern to decide if they'll match the original offer sheet.