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Seahawks designate transition

The NFC champion Seattle Seahawks designated All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson as the team's transition player yesterday after the sides were unable to reach a long-term contract.

Hutchinson will receive a one-year contract for the average salary of the top 10 offensive linemen from the 2005 season, $6.39 million. Hutchinson can receive offers from other teams once the free agency period begins March 3, but Seattle has the right of first refusal on any offers.

Seattle has until March 17 to reach a long-term contract with Hutchinson, or will have to wait until July to begin negotiations again. Had Seattle named Hutchinson its franchise player, the lineman would have made $6.983 million next season.

Teaming with tackle Walter Jones, the duo has helped form one of the best left-side blocking tandems in the NFL.

Hutchinson and Jones led a rushing attack that was second in the league in total offense.

Other players designated with the transition tag include: Minnesota cornerback Brian Williams, $4.774 million; and Carolina running back DeShaun Foster, $5.13 million.

The designation of Hutchinson as the transition player also puts increased pressure on reaching a multiyear deal with defensive tackle Rocky Bernard.

Franchise tagged
Jeff Backus, a former linemate of Hutchinson's in college at Michigan, was designated the Detroit Lions' franchise player, guaranteeing him $6.98 million.

Two other franchise players were protected earlier this week -- Buffalo cornerback Nate Clements and New York Jets defensive end John Abraham.

Cutting edge
There was a rash of players cut, including Cleveland veteran Kenard Lang, who was switched from defensive end to linebacker last season when the Browns switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. Lang was due to make $4.6 million this season. Offensive lineman Mike Williams was released by the Bills, ending an underachieving four-year tenure in Buffalo for the former No. 4 overall draft pick. The move allows the Bills to save more than $3 million in salary cap space for next season. Williams had two years left on his contract and was due a $3 million roster bonus in July. A former star at Texas, Williams was the first offensive lineman selected in the 2002 draft. The solid run blocker struggled in pass situations, a knock that prevented the team from using him at left tackle -- a more high-profile and demanding position . . . The 49ers let Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson become an unrestricted free agent by not making him their franchise player. The 49ers also released nine players, including receiver Johnnie Morton, cornerback Ahmed Plummer, and defensive end Chris Cooper.

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