The Poison Pill Is Dead


It was 6 years ago. The Poison Pill.

Now it’ll never happen again.

The fallout from that dishonest deal run deeper than just the Vikings, the Seahawks and Steve Hutchinson. It altered the framework of the way the league operated by removing a important tool that teams could use to retain their best players. Luckily, after all this time, that tool has been restored.

The Transition Tag is often described as the Franchise Tag’s little brother, but that is a very flawed comparison. The two are fundamentally different in nature. The Franchise Tag essentially guarantees a player a big salary, but also creates a what is ultimately an exclusive-rights scenario in terms of negotiating a long-term contract. The Transition Tag, on the other hand, allows a player to use the free agent market to set their own value, and then gives the team the option of matching that contract or letting the player walk.

Contrary to general opinion in Seattle, using the Transition Tag on Hutchinson was the right call 6 years ago. The Seahawks wanted to keep Hutchison, but were hard pressed up against the salary cap and couldn’t afford the Franchise Tag cost. The Seahawks also didn’t want to get into a situation where they were telling one their team leaders why he wasn’t worth what he thought he was worth. Hutchinson could get whatever contract his agent could get for him, and the Seahawks were prepared to match it.

Besides, the idea of a Poison Pill had never been considered before. There was no reason to suspect that the Vikings and Hutchinson would insert one into the contract, because the idea had never existed before. But that’s exactly what they did. The Poison Pill required that Hutchinson be the highest paid offensive lineman on the team. It was a condition in the contract that the Seahawks could not match because Walter Jones already made more. The Seahawks quickly reworked Jones’ deal, but an arbitrator determined that the Poison Pill condition must be met at the time that the deal the signed, making it impossible for the Seahawks to ever meet that condition.

The Poison Pill killed that Transition Tag league wide. In a quick glance at the transition logs from the past 6 season, I could not find the Transition Tag being used even once*. Teams were afraid of Poison Pills, and simply refused to even consider using the tag.

And that was the problem. The Transition Tag was part of the  collectively bargained deal between the players and the league. It was designed to make sure that teams could hold on to their best players without limiting the earning potential of those players. And one dishonest deal between a desperate team and petty and jealous player stripped the entire league of from that method of retaining players.

Luckily, the league was smart enough to remove this problem with the new collective bargaining agreement. According to the National Football Post, the new CBS contains specific language that eliminates the possibility of teams inserting a Poison Pill into a contract.

This is important for teams like the Seahawks who have a lot of free agents that they are hoping to retain. Marshawn Lynch remains the likely recipient of the Franchise Tag, but he’s not the only important player that the Seahawks don’t want to lose. Michael Robinson, David Hawthorne and Red Bryant are all important players the Seahawks are hoping to retain, and the Transition Tag might just be an option for one of them.

*It’s possible that I missed one, as It wasn’t an exhaustive search, but I doubt it.