Candidates Line Up to Replace Tagliabue

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 12:39 PM

Roger Goodell, the NFL's chief operating officer, and Rich McKay, the president and general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, are the top candidates to replace Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who announced Monday that he plans to retire at the end of July, as the search process begins.

But that doesn't mean they will remain the top candidates. There already was talk among some owners late Monday that Eric Grubman, the league's executive vice president of finance and business transactions, could supplant Goodell as the favored candidate from within the league office. League counsel Jeff Pash also could be a candidate.

Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass is regarded as a long-shot candidate. A man who knows the inner workings of the league inside and out, he is an attorney who formerly represented Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, then represented the Jack Kent Cooke estate when it sold the Washington Redskins to Daniel Snyder. But he might be viewed by some as being too close to Jones.

Tagliabue said Monday that he will begin discussions with the owners about the search process when they start the annual league meeting Monday in Orlando, Fla. Tagliabue said the owners eventually will be given a list of possibilities that includes candidates from outside the NFL. He also indicated that he will stay in the job until his successor is chosen, even if that means postponing his retirement from his July 31 target.

The divisions between owners -- those with high-revenue teams and those with low-revenue clubs, old guard and new wave -- were evident during the labor and revenue-sharing debates that Tagliabue finally settled this month. Now he faces another daunting task in getting the group to agree on a new leader.

L.A. Tops Agenda

Tagliabue said Monday that his exit should not affect the league's plan to put a franchise or two in Los Angeles in the next few years. He said he hopes to move the process forward significantly by the owners' meetings scheduled for May.

"I don't think my own personal situation will have any impact one way or another," Tagliabue said during a conference call with reporters. " . . . With television behind us and the [collective bargaining agreement] behind us, putting a team in Los Angeles rises to the top of the list."

Tagliabue said he spoke to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson on Monday to reassure Benson that he will continue to focus on trying to make the Saints' return to New Orleans successful. The team has moved back to the city after spending this past season based in San Antonio following the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Some people in the league believe there's a good chance that the Saints will end up in Los Angeles if they are unable to operate successfully in New Orleans in the next few years.

Hutchinson To Vikings, Peterson to Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks, after losing a special-master case earlier Monday, allowed guard Steve Hutchinson to leave for Minnesota by declining to match the Vikings' seven-year, $49 million offer sheet. The defending NFC champions promptly responded by agreeing with free agent linebacker Julian Peterson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection with the San Francisco 49ers, on a seven-year, $54 million contract that includes $18.5 million in guaranteed money.

The Seahawks were facing a midnight deadline to decide whether to match the Vikings' offer to Hutchinson, which included a provision that the entire contract would become guaranteed if he was not the highest-paid offensive lineman on his team at any point during this league year. The league brought a case before Stephen Burbank, the University of Pennsylvania law professor who serves as the NFL's special master and is in charge of resolving disputes arising from the league's collective bargaining agreement, on Monday. The Seahawks indicated during the hearing that they had reworked the contract of left tackle Walter Jones since Hutchinson signed his offer sheet, adding an extra season to the deal that could be voided.

That meant that Hutchinson, not Jones, would be the Seahawks' highest-paid offensive lineman if the club matched the Vikings' offer. The Seahawks sought to have Burbank allow them to match the Vikings' offer without having to fully guarantee Hutchinson's contract, based on Jones's altered deal. But Burbank ruled that the Seahawks would have to guarantee the contract because Jones, before his contract was reworked, was the team's highest-paid offensive lineman and the clause stated that Hutchinson's contract would be fully guaranteed if he wasn't the highest-paid offensive lineman on his club at any point during the league year. Burbank would not allow the Seahawks to alter the clause, and he ruled that the clause was a "principal term" of the deal that had to be matched by Seattle if it wanted to retain Hutchinson.

The Seahawks then declined to match the offer, allowing Hutchinson to go to the Vikings. Seattle receives no draft-pick compensation from Minnesota for Hutchinson. Last month, the Seahawks named Hutchinson, who had been eligible for unrestricted free agency, their transition player. That gave them the right to retain him by matching any offer sheet he might sign with another club. But it did not give the Seahawks the right to receive compensation for him if the team allowed him to sign elsewhere. To have that right, the Seahawks would have had to spend about $600,000 more to name Hutchinson their franchise player.

But the Seahawks used the cash and salary cap space they would have utilized on Hutchinson to bolster their defense by signing Peterson. They also are attempting to trade for defensive end John Abraham, the New York Jets' franchise player. The Seahawks have agreed to trade a first-round draft choice to the Jets for Abraham. But they've been unable to negotiate a new contract with Abraham to complete the transaction because Abraham wants to be traded to Atlanta. The problem is, the Falcons are offering the Jets only a second-round draft selection, and the Jets are balking at that . . . .

Peterson's signing in Seattle could affect the pursuit of fellow free agent linebacker LaVar Arrington, who was released recently by the Redskins. The Miami Dolphins had been interested in both players, and might intensify their efforts to sign Arrington now that Peterson is off the market. Arrington likely will use Peterson's contract as a benchmark for what he wants. The New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals also are among the clubs chasing Arrington.

Keyshawn Visiting Giants

Free agent wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, released last week by Dallas and then replaced in the Cowboys' lineup when they signed Terrell Owens, is scheduled to visit the Giants today. He has listed the Giants and Seahawks among the teams that interest him the most . . . .

The Philadelphia Eagles released quarterbacks Mike McMahon and Andy Hall on the heels of signing Jeff Garcia to back up Donovan McNabb . . . .

The Detroit Lions told quarterback Joey Harrington not to report to the team's offseason workout program while they try to accommodate his request to be traded. The Lions almost certainly will release Harrington at some point if they can't trade him. Veteran defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, who's considering retirement, also was absent as the Lions' workouts got under way . . . . Detroit signed free agent guard Rex Tucker, formerly of the St. Louis Rams. . . . Houston signed tight end Jeb Putzier, who'd been released by Denver . . . . Tampa Bay re-signed wide receiver Ike Hilliard, an unrestricted free agent, and cornerback Torrie Cox, a restricted free agent . . . . Pittsburgh re-signed wideout Lee Mays, an unrestricted free agent . . . . Restricted free agent guard Kris Dielman re-signed with San Diego.

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