Many people believe the demise of the Seahawks started when the team lost Steve Hutchinson to the Vikings. Now, it certainly wasn’t only the loss of Hutchinson and there have been a number of factors that have come into play, but the numbers really don’t lie. In case you don’t know the story, for a five-year stretch, things were good in Seattle. Mike Holmgren was there, they had a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback with Matt Hasselbeck and they had a tremendous left side of their offensive line with Steve Hutchinson and Walter Jones. During the time that Hutchinson was in Seattle, the Seahawks had four winning seasons out of five and a Super Bowl appearance. However, in March 2006, Hutchinson became a free agent and was designated as the team’s transition player. After receiving the transition tag from Seattle, Hutchinson then signed a lucrative and controversial offer sheet from the Vikings which included a poison pill that stated if he wasn’t the highest paid lineman on his own team, his entire salary would’ve been guaranteed. Because the Seahawks had just given a contract to Walter Jones that was richer than the one offered to Hutchinson, the poison pill would’ve been triggered. Therefore, the Seahawks did not match the Vikings offer and Hutchinson hasn’t missed a game since going to Minnesota.
Since his departure to Minnesota, the Seahawks have gone in reverse. Matt Hasselbeck hasn’t been able to stay healthy, their offensive line has struggled, Mike Holmgren decided to end his tenure as Seattle head coach and now instead of reigning supreme in the NFC West, the Seahawks were near the bottom last year and are right there again this season, right next to the St Louis Rams.
While he has been away from the game, Holmgren’s name continues to resurface around the league. He has already said that he wants to return to the NFL in some capacity in 2010 and because of that, he has been linked to NFL team’s such as the Cleveland Browns. Mike Holmgren joined KJR in Seattle to talk about the story behind Seattle losing Steve Hutchinson and clarifies his situation with the Browns.
The story behind Steve Hutchinson leaving Seattle:
“Before I tell you where I was, I want to go on record as saying no one in the Seahawks building wanted to lose Steve Hutchinson, that’s for sure. (Host: That includes Tim Ruskell?) Absolutely. We all knew Steve was a great player and he was in the middle of a big contract negotiation obviously, and we were struggling to get that done. I’m on the competition committee and I had meetings in Indianapolis. And when I went there I was under the impression that if we didn’t sign him to a long-term deal, which I thought we were going to, then we would just franchise him and move on. When I got there, John Clayton came up to me a couple days after I’d been there and said why did you guys transition Steve Hutchinson? I said no you got that wrong, we franchised him. He goes no you transitioned him. I said John I respect you, but you got that wrong. Then I found out that he was right. (Host: How did you find out he was right, did you call home?) Yeah, I phoned back to the office and they said yeah we did this, but we thought, the organization thought, we still had the right of first refusal in this. In other words any contract they brought to us we could match, which we absolutely intended to do. Then the Vikings, in my opinion, they didn’t break the rules, but they broke the spirit of the rules in signing him to what we call now a poison pill contract. Even when we found out what the contract was, we were in discussions to match it or talk to the league about hey they can’t do this. They kind of changed the rules on us I thought. At any rate, we lost him and yeah it’s made a huge difference. I think it’s made a huge difference for the Seahawks and clearly been a real, real positive thing for the Vikings. You know Steve’s a great guy, I loved him, I drafted him and he’s a great football player. I think, not just with the Seahawks but also around the league, I think this is a little bit of a danger at times, he was a guard. The powers that be, not just with the Seahawks but with people around the league that make these decisions say you know what, no guard is worth x amount of dollars. That comes out and I would generally say, yeah a left tackle is worth like a quarterback, you pay him whatever you have to pay him, but a guard, you can get a guard. That’s the feeling throughout the league. My argument to that was, that is true almost all the time unless you have someone very, very special. Steve was that kind of player, in my opinion. So we didn’t want to lose him, no one did, Tim didn’t, no one did, but the Vikings, they pulled a little bit of a fast one on us. It was too bad.”
On whether or not they were aware of the risks:
“Well, I was a little bit nervous, you get nervous when you haven’t shut the door. With the franchise tag any year, if we hadn’t franchised Walter Jones, we franchised him three years in a row, there is always the chance that someone can come in, some creative agent or lawyer, can come in and do something funky. That’s exactly what happened. So I was like when I called back, geez I thought we were going to do this. It was explained to me and there was some logic to it, absolutely there was some logic to it ‘cause we had the right of first refusal and no way we were going to lose him and all these kinds of things. Then sure enough, we lose him because of some lawyers getting together and writing in some stuff.”
On the team not including him in the decision to transition Steve Hutchinson:
“Well it wasn’t quite like that in all fairness. Prior to me leaving on those meetings, I was under the impression we were going to handle this a certain way. There are many times, well not many times but a few times, there were contractual things, Mike Ryan was there and Tim and I just didn’t think too much about it, I thought it was done. In fact, I had a meeting with Steve in my office before I left, a couple days before this all happens. He and I had a good relationship and I told him I hope it all gets worked out and I understand it’s a big contract. He assured me he wanted to be in Seattle, and I told him if it didn’t we were going to franchise him and move on. It’s a good lesson for everyone, it hadn’t happened before, this type of contract and it will never happen again. The league meetings, with team’s owners and the commissioner, I got up and talked to this. Minnesota was censored a bit for doing it and it was the spirit of the rule. Yeah, other teams could have done this forever, no one’s ever done it, no one ever did it and no one has done it since. So what does that mean?”
On whether or not he has had any conversation with Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner:
“Well you know how we talked about last week all the rumors that pop around during this time of year. I’m very flattered by my name being tossed around like that. It makes me feel good when I’m riding on my motorcycle enjoying the sun. I hope it’s true that someday that we get a chance to talk. I have a tremendous respect for Mr. Lerner and there team is struggling just a little bit. I absolutely would love to talk to him about the possibility of working there. Until that happens, you guys will be the first ones to know.”
On whether going to a rebuilding franchise is appealing:
“You know I think it’s a very valid question you raise. I think to do that with any team, to a certain extent we did it going into Green Bay and a little bit coming into Seattle. It takes a tremendous amount of energy, but there is a certain appeal there, a draw there. There’s something in my personality to that. Taking on those types of projects, that kind of gets me going, but there’s a lot of work to do. The important thing going into any organization is that all the principles, all the decision makers are pointed in the same direction with the same motives, with the same desires and then you have a chance. As you look around the NFL, I’m not sure you can say that about every team and it shows. I think the teams that are successful, through ownership, down through management, down through coaching, there is a singleness, a purpose, there’s enough credit for everybody, no one gets territorial, its just good and it shows on the field. I think in the case of the Cleveland Browns or any of the teams that are struggling, that question has to be answered first before you even have much of a chance I think.”