Seeking another playmaker for their already potent offense, and looking for a little payback as well, the Seattle Seahawks on Friday evening signed Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Nate Burleson to a restricted free agent offer sheet worth $49 million over seven years.
Do those contract terms sound a little familiar? They should. The Vikings earlier this week spirited three-time Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson, designated by Seattle as a transition free agent, away from the Seahawks with a seven-year, $49 million deal. Seattle declined to match the offer, and Hutchinson moved on to the Vikings, after the Seahawks lost an arbitration case in which they challenged some so-called "poison pill" provisions of the offer sheet.
There have been rumors for about a week that Burleson, who recently visited with Seahawks officials, might sign a Seattle offer sheet. But the added element of revenge -- and there is little doubt the similarity to the Hutchinson contract was more than coincidental -- certainly provides a delicious twist.
It should be interesting to see how top officials from the two franchises interact when the annual league meetings convene in Orlando, Fla., on Monday morning. The weather in Orlando for next week already is forecast as cool, and the relationship between the Vikings and Seahawks is a bit chillier after Friday.
The offer sheet that Burleson signed on Friday with the Seahawks features not only the same number of years and the same amount of total payout as the Hutchinson contract, but also includes two "poison pills" that will make it virtually impossible for the Vikings to match.
Minnesota has seven days to match the offer sheet, keep Burleson, and essentially inherit the terms of the contract negotiated by the Seahawks with the three-year veteran wide receiver. If the Vikings decline to match, they will receive Seattle's third-round choice in this year's draft as compensation. The Vikings retained a right of first refusal on Burleson by making him a restricted free agent qualifying offer of $712,000 earlier this month.
To match the deal, though, the Vikings will have to swallow hard. Beyond the size of the total payout and a total of $5.25 million in guarantees, are two devious provisions.
The first would guarantee the entire contract, all $49 million, if Burleson plays five or more games in the state of Minnesota in any season of the contract. The Vikings, of course, play home games in Minneapolis, at the Metrodome there. The second bizarre provision would guarantee the full contract if Burleson is paid more on average per year than all of the Minnesota running backs combined. At least for now, the averages of the Vikings' tailbacks fall well shy of the $7 million average of the Burleson offer sheet.
It should be recalled that, when the Vikings signed Hutchinson to his offer sheet, they wrote into the deal a provision that guaranteed the full contract if the star guard was not the highest paid lineman on the team. The Vikings knew that Seattle could not match the offer, since Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones has a contract that averages more than Hutchinson's deal.
Before deciding whether to match the offer sheet, Minnesota officials may challenge the "poison pill" provisions, as did the Seahawks with Hutchinson's contract. Minnesota likely could have avoided the raid on Burleson had the Vikings, who possessed more than enough salary cap space, made him a higher qualifying offer, one that carried a loftier price tag in terms of compensatory picks.
By choosing to tender Burleson's lowest-level qualifying offer, the Vikings made him as easy target for teams to poach, given that it would cost them just a third-round draft choice as compensation. At that price, Burleson was one of the real steals of the restricted free agent talent pool, and Seattle, appropriately, attempted to pilfer the talented wideout.
In three seasons, Burleson has 127 receptions for 1,789 yards and 12 touchdowns. The former Nevada star, a third-round pick in the 2003 draft, has appeared in 47 games and started 33 of them. He had a seeming breakout year in 2004, when he posted 68 catches for 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns, but his numbers dropped off in 2005, when injuries limited Burleson to nine starts.
Around the NFL, however, Burleson, just 24, is regarded as an ascending talent, a wide receiver capable of 70 or more catches annually and of consistent 1,000-yard seasons.
Were the Seahawks to secure Burleson, who played at O'Dea High School in Seattle, he probably would join Darrell Jackson in the starting lineup. That would allow veteran Bobby Engram, a starter in 2005, to return to his more natural role as the No. 3 receiver working out of the slot.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.