Browns, Steelers don’t have to worry about poison pills

In 2006, retired guard Steve Hutchinson became the last high-profile player to change teams under the transition tag.  Slapped with the device that gives the current team only a right to match an offer sheet signed by another team, Hutchinson ultimately left the Seahawks for the Vikings.

The move occurred thanks to a so-called “poison pill,” which would have made Hutchinson’s seven-year, $49 million contract fully guaranteed if at any time during the life of the contract he wasn’t the highest paid offensive lineman on the team.  At the time the offer sheet was signed, the Seahawks were paying more to left tackle Walter Jones.

Thus, the deal would have become instantly guaranteed in Seattle.  For the Vikings, only $18.5 million was guaranteed on signing.

The Seahawks challenged the move, the Vikings won, and then the Seahawks retaliated by signing receiver Nate Burleson, who was a restricted free agent at the time, to an offer sheet that would have guaranteed the full amount if he had played five or more games in Minnesota in any year of the deal, or if Burleson had been paid more on average per year than all of the team’s tailbacks.

The tit-for-tat worked for Seattle, but both teams were reportedly dressed down at the subsequent league meetings.  Efforts to remove the “poison pill” tactic from the labor deal, which was brand new at the time, went nowhere when the NFL and the NFLPA couldn’t agree on the corresponding concession to the players for removing the tactic.

So the teams simply quit using it, and the union never alleged collusion.

In 2011, when the next labor deal was negotiated, the league secured an agreement to remove poison pills from offer sheets.  Article 9, Section 3(e) defines the “Principal Terms” of an offer sheet that much be matched for transition-tagged players and restricted free agents.  Subsection (iii) explains that “no Offer Sheet may contain a Principal Term that would create rights or obligations for the Old Club that differ in any way (including but not limited to the amount of compensation that would be paid, the circumstances in which compensation would be guaranteed, or the circumstances in which other contractual rights would or would not vest) from the rights or obligations that such Principal Term would create for the Club extending the Offer Sheet (i.e., no ‘poison pills’).”

In English, the 2011 CBA eliminated the ability to include terms that would operate differently for the current team than the new team.

Per a source with knowledge of the negotiations, the players received in return an elimination of the highest restricted-free agency tender, which required compensation in the amount of a first-round and third-round draft pick.  Also, the players obtained a new formula for calculating the franchise tender, which ties the amount of the tender to the growth of the salary cap.

As a result, the Browns and Steelers need to assess only whether they want to (or can) match the salary, the bonus money, and most importantly (especially for the Steelers) the cap numbers created by the offer sheet.The same analysis applies to any of the teams who tender restricted free agents, a class of players that will be smaller than in the past, now that all draft picks must sign four-year deals.  Restricted free agency applies only to players who have three years of service.

42 responses to “Browns, Steelers don’t have to worry about poison pills

  1. Losing Hutchinson by trying to be “cute” with the transition tag was only one of many BONEHEADED moves by former GM Tim Ruskell.

    All Seahawk fans are forever grateful that Tim Ruskell is our _FORMER_ GM!

  2. If NE or Dallas would have been smart enough to come up with poison pill idea, everyone would be falling all over themselves saying what a great move it was. Still, Hutch was a great addition to the Vikings.

  3. thevikesarebest says:
    Mar 3, 2014 7:46 PM
    The smart vikings organization screwed over the stupid useless shehawks.Not surprising.SKOL


    Hey how did you like how Hutch and Favre took you to the Super Bowl after 2009? Oh wait, Tracy Porter snuffed out that dream! HAHAHAHA

  4. Steve Hutchinson started playing well when he joined the Vikings.

    I guess this emphasizes the point how much better players are on successful franchises.

  5. How about this: Let’s say the Raiders offer Mack a 1 year deal worth 15 mil (they have plenty of cap space) with the understanding with Mack’s agent that if the Browns don’t match then the Raiders would immediately sign him to an extension that would make the total deal worth 9 mil a year. Gets Mack out of Cleveland with a long term 9 mil a year deal. Could someone get away with that?

  6. Good thing for the Vikings fans who now cheer for Seattle’s Farm Team that the Hutch move brought them a Super Bowl after this happened. Oh wait…..Well at least Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Heath Farewell, T-Jack and Bevell all got ring last year.

  7. “The tit-for-tat worked for Seattle”

    Yeah that worked great for us. We got a mediocre overpaid receiver and a revolving door at LG ever since.

  8. I don’t get it.

    So the Steelers and Browns DON’T have to worry about the poison pill, but the other 30 teams DO?

    Is that safe to assume from this article and it’s headline?

  9. “The Seahawks challenged the move, and the Vikings won”

    This has happened many times in history, and will keep happening.

    The PEDhawks are the Viking’s little brother

  10. It’s still absolutely ludicrous that the arbitrator allowed that to fly. Vikings conjuring away Hutch with that language violated the spirit of the rule, which was to allow the player to negotiate with other teams in good faith to get a sense of their true open market value while still protecting the original team. The Seahawks brass argued that why would anyone even use the franchise tag if this nonsense was allowed to occur? And sure enough, that happened, and the transition tag became worthless. Absolutely disgraceful.

  11. Even without a textbook “poison pill,” teams can still structure offers in ways that make it either very difficult or virtually impossible to match and retain.

  12. For the people sleeping under a rock all day — the Steelers and Browns were the only teams to apply the transition tag.

    Since the Vikings-Hawks fiasco it has been determined that new team essentially must pay out the same contract that the original team would match, with no caveats.

  13. In the case of the Steelers isn’t it a very real possibility that another team can ethically structure the contract so the cap strapped Steelers couldn’t match it? Or make it so difficult that the Steelers would be fools to match it?
    Structure the money so it goes directly against the Steelers cap this year.

    The Browns have plenty of cap space but not the Steelers.

  14. Thank you Steeley McBeam for posting…

    For the people sleeping under a rock all day — the Steelers and Browns were the only teams to apply the transition tag.

    There are some of us that do sleep under rocks during the day, and work above the rock all night. For people like us, it would have been nice if Florio not have assumed everyone is up to speed on the topic. A simple sentence like “The Steelers and Browns were the only teams to apply the transition tag” would’ve worked wonders for the “under the rock” crowd. Yeah, to everyone else it may have been redundant information, however, to the rest of us it would’ve been very important info.

    Hey, but what do I know.

  15. 8 years later, the Poison Pill still looms large, and has become the defining feature of Hutch’s career, and probably the careers of agent Tom “Poison Pill” Condon and Zygi “Ziggy” Wilf as well.

    Hope is was worth it, scuzzballs!

  16. That “killer move” by the Vikings essentially destroyed the franchise tag as an effective means of keeping players for six seasons.

    Your favorite team probably lost a player over that time period, thanks to them.

  17. ariani1985 says:
    Mar 3, 2014 8:08 PM

    Notice that the seaturds have never won a game in Minnesota.

    Notice that the Vikings have never won a Super Bowl.

  18. @ariani1985 says: Mar 3, 2014 8:08 PM

    “Notice that the seaturds have never won a game in Minnesota.”

    No, they just win games that matter, like Super Bowls.

    The Minnesota Vikings. 0-4 in games that matter.

  19. All this bickering between two teams that have won one Superbowl combined! Got to love it now go to school or your parents will be mad your late.

  20. “In the case of the Steelers isn’t it a very real possibility that another team can ethically structure the contract so the cap strapped Steelers couldn’t match it?”

    That would mean a team would have to be willing to pay well above market for a certain player, just to stick it to the Steelers. Though I would understand the attempt to try to keep the steelers from winning more SB’s, not sure how many GM’s would keep their job if that was their strategy.

  21. Woirlds has only really proven himself for a half of season. It would be a gamble for a team aside from the Steelers to pay him as he is a fit for the 3-4. Oh and for the Seahawks and Viking fans. In Pittsburgh we have a name for 1 Superbowl win between two teams…… “Cute”. Now recess is over kids, time to go back to school.

  22. Brad Childress trying underhanded tactics to lure other team’s players to minnesota? And the league letting him get away with that tampering crap?

    Let me act surprised…

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