SEATTLE, WA - When Steve Hutchinson decided to hang up his cleats after 12 seasons in the NFL back in 2013, he knew he wanted to remain around the game of football. But at the same time, after dedicating his life to the sport for nearly three decades, he wanted to ensure he had plenty of time to spend with his family as well.
Keeping those things in mind, Hutchinson wasn't going to step into a full-time coaching job, at least not right away. Instead, the future Hall of Fame guard was fascinated by the personnel and management side of the equation and three years after retiring, he jumped into a scouting role with the Titans, which proved to be quite the transition from imposing his will on defenders in the trenches for more than a decade.
"Even if you play as long as I did or guys that played a long time, it's not a natural thing," Hutchinson said in a recent interview with Seahawk Maven. "I mean, you know what to look for, but there's a learning curve and there's a learning process that goes with scouting, right? You have to temper expectations. You have to be realistic about it. So I had to learn about all that and it was intriguing to me."
However, Hutchinson admitted the position in Tennessee's organization still wasn't the right fit for him at this point in his life. Working more hours than he desired, he chose to step away, but a better opportunity would soon present itself courtesy of general manager John Schneider and Seattle's front office.
Shortly after resigning from his position with the Titans, Schneider reached out to Hutchinson, who played his first six NFL seasons with the Seahawks, with a chance to step into a similar role evaluating college prospects with far more flexible hours and less travel demands. Eager to join the organization that drafted him 20 years ago, he didn't have to think twice about accepting the offer.
Though he was officially hired as a football consultant in March 2020, Hutchinson says he's been working for the franchise for the past three or four years and couldn't be happier with his current gig.
"That's kind of the best of both worlds. I get to be involved with football in a team that I love and an organization where I know many of the people that are still there, right?," Hutchinson remarked. "John and Chuck Arnold and people downstairs and people working in VPs of different departments. They're all the same people from when I was there [playing]. So it was a win-win for me, and it's been great. I get a sense of helping the team that I was drafted by and help them get back to that Super Bowl."
It's been a long road back to the Pacific Northwest for Hutchinson, who helped pave the way for the Seahawks to make their first Super Bowl appearance after finishing with a 13-3 record in 2005. Set to hit free agency the following March, he had earned First-Team All-Pro honors in two of the previous three seasons and was widely viewed by many as the best guard in the NFL at the time.
Unfortunately, an ugly exit tarnished Hutchinson's legacy and reputation. After the front office placed a transition tag on him, which granted them the right to match an offer from any other team, he agreed to terms with Minnesota on a seven-year, $49 million contract.
The Seahawks wanted to bring back Hutchinson, but his contract offer with the Vikings included a dreaded "poison pill" provision that required the matching team to fully guarantee his salary if he was not the highest-paid lineman on the team. With legendary tackle Walter Jones having recently signed a richer contract, they couldn't afford to match the offer, as it would have obliterated their salary cap.
As a result, Hutchinson moved on to Minnesota and since Seattle inexplicably opted not to use the franchise tag, the team didn't receive any compensation in return for his departure. The sequence of events instantly made Hutchinson and general manager Tim Ruskell public enemies of the 12s.
16 years later, although he earned three more All-Pro nods with the Vikings as part of his storied career, Hutchinson regrets how everything played out back then. That was one of the biggest reasons why he was so excited for the chance to rejoin the Seahawks as a member of the scouting department to work his way back into good graces with one of the most passionate fan bases in the sport.
"Personally, having left this team and this city in the manner that I did, let's be honest, my contract when I left here to go to Minnesota... That's not the way when I was drafted here, I saw myself leaving this city, and it took a while for coach [Mike] Holmgren, myself, the Seahawks to get to the point where we are now," Hutchinson explained. "I've been involved with the team again. Kind of reunited. And it's been great."
Like most scouts, much of the work Hutchinson does for Seattle goes unnoticed without name recognition. Being a former offensive lineman, he's used to not being in the limelight and hiding in the background and prefers it that way.
However, with him now immortalized in Canton, Hutchinson is easily the highest-profile member of the Seahawks personnel department. Schneider pulled the curtain back during draft weekend in April to illustrate how heavily he was involved in the selection process this year, sharing how he agonized on day three holding out hope the team would be able to draft Florida tackle Stone Forsythe, who he had spent extensive time with during the pre-draft process.
"I don’t know who was more nervous there for awhile, Pete [Carroll] or Hutch. I was like you guys need to stop walking around in front of the table. They were making me dizzy," Schneider laughed.
Listening to Hutchinson recall how those final few rounds of the draft played out provides additional perspective on how much fun he's truly having playing a different role for his original team. He's still learning on the fly, seeing things unfold in the draft room that he never would have known about as a player. He's also had to learn to deal with the emotions of losing a player who was high on the team's draft board and being able to quickly shift his attention to other possibilities.
"You're sitting there and you're going, alright, so we got this pick coming up," Hutchinson elaborated. "These are the guys that are kind of in our wheelhouse that are available, and you start thinking, hey, there's a chance we're gonna get this guy. And you're like, wow, I really love this guy. Did a lot of homework. I watched this guy live. I interviewed him at the Senior Bowl. I've done a ton of film work on them. I've written reports, Pete [Carroll] and I have talked about him. John [Schneider], Matt Berry, you name it, all the people in the organization were like 'We like this guy. I think he'll fit here.' Then you get close and there's a team two picks in front of you that picks the guy. And instantly you have to take months and months of work in hours of preparation and background checks and all that stuff, and you just instantly go, you drag it and drop it into trash because it's like that guy's gone."
Luckily, though Hutchinson's relentless pacing in the draft room may have put Schneider on the brink of insanity, the former Michigan standout was able to get his guy in the sixth round. Schneider packaged two picks - No. 217 and 250 - to the Bears in exchange for pick No. 208, using the selection on Forsythe.
Once other names came off the board, Hutchinson had been in Carroll and Schneider's ears about Forsythe, a player he had been very impressed with based on his stellar play against top SEC competition, his long arms, his plus-athleticism, and his physical mindset. After an extensive wait, he hopes to have unearthed a player who can help the Seahawks down the road either as a quality backup or as a potential heir apparent to Duane Brown.
"It's fun. It's satisfying that way when you know you have a hand [in the pick]. And because I've been there, I've been that guy that's been sitting there waiting for the phone call to get drafted. I had a hand in making a guy's dream come true from that standpoint. But at the same time, you hope you did something to help the team down the road and either provide depth or a guy that'll be a starter at some point. So it's fun. It's a satisfying deal."
Along with enjoying the perks of his new job, Hutchinson has also remained active in the community, as he's currently teaming up with Lowe's as part of their "Home Team Initiative." As part of the project, collaborating with the non-profit Sound Foundations Northwest, he will be helping build 50 tiny homes to provide temporary residences for homeless people and families in the Seattle region.
According to Hutchinson, over a third of the people provided with the opportunity to live in such temporary housing are able to successfully get back on track. He's hopeful through his partnership with Lowe's that he will be able to help get numerous people off of the street and better their lives moving forward.
"They're able to whip out four of these little houses that can house up to two people or a small family to get them off the streets. You see the people underneath the over passes in the inclement weather, which in this town is all the time. It's just a very tangible solution."
Bringing his career full circle, while continuing to work as a scout for the front office and making a difference in the community he once called home, Hutchinson found himself back in good graces with the 12s last Thursday night. Although the Seahawks lost 26-17 to the Rams, after a two-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while sporting his gold jacket and standing next to his bronze bust, he finally received his Hall of Fame ring in front of loud cheers from over 65,000 in attendance.
Thrilled with his current situation and planning to remain with the organization for years to come, after coming up one game short of bringing the first Lombardi Trophy to Seattle as a player, Hutchinson hopes to add that elusive ring to his collection excelling in a much different, yet still important role behind the scenes.
"It'd be a hell of a story to tell. You got a Super Bowl ring with the Seahawks? Yeah, but not the way you think. I was thinking we were going to get 16, 17 years ago in Detroit against the Steelers, and it didn't work out that way. But I'll take it any way I can get it at this point."