News out of Minnesota is that their seven time pro bowl guard Steve Hutchinson might be a casualty as a result of the Vikings salary cap situation. In 2006, Hutchinson signed a record deal with the Vikings worth $49 million over seven years. Along with Hutchinson, the Vikings might be looking to free up cap space by releasing other veteran players such as CB Cedric Griffin in order to have money to reboot most of their team and bring in more youth to an aging player personnel.
The news of Hutchinson's possible release could be welcome news for Bengals fans everywhere as the guard position is a high priority for the Bengals this upcoming off-season and a veteran player, for the right price, could be a viable option. Hutchinson is a seven time pro bowler and was a significant link in the left side of the Vikings offensive line that has paved the way for one of the best running backs in the league, Adrian Peterson.
Hutchinson is past his prime physically, but if the Bengals draft a guard he could be a significant addition, opposite of Bobbie Williams, because of his ability to groom younger offensive linemen...but only if the price is right. Although he signed for a record contract six years ago, he is no where near worth that type of money now. If Hutchinson is released and the Bengals can configure a short, 1-2 year type of contract, he would be a significant upgrade from McGlynn and Livings, even though he is several years their elder.
Hutchinson is widely known as a smart, tough guard who does not commit a lot of penalties. In 2011, Hutchinson had one false start and three holding penalties called against him. Bengals guards (Livings, Williams, Boling, and McGlynn) had a total of 9 holding penalties and 6 false starts and seven of those penalties resulted in stalled drives for the Bengals offense. This is not an overwhelmingly impressive stat in favor of bringing in Hutchinson, but if you look at the stats from 2007-2010, Hutchinson was responsible for only FOUR PENALTIES over those four years. The Bengals have struggled with discipline and penalties over the last few years and it has cost them a few games or, at least, the opportunities to win games.
That type of discipline and leadership is something that the Bengals could use in the trenches and having Hutchinson groom guards that they draft would be an ideal situation for the Bengals offensive line. If the Bengals sign Hutchinson for a minimal contract, this does not mean that they should not draft a guard in April. Signing Hutchinson is a temporary fix to a much larger issue, and drafting a young guard is a necessity no matter who you pick up in free agency (unless, of course, the Bengals decide to sign Carl Nicks and Ben Grubbs), but with two aging guards there needs to be an injection of youth into the offensive line by any means necessary. Clint Boling is an option for the Bengals, but he played minimally in five games last year and has yet to prove that he has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL. Boling is still very raw and needs a bit more experience, and a full off-season will not hurt his progression.
One way or another, the Bengals need to bring in more options at OG and it would be preferable, from a fans perspective, if they did it through the draft AND free agency. Youth is important for the Bengals to obtain, but having a few veterans to groom and teach the younger players can only help their progression, and possible emergence as a reliable offensive lineman, to happen faster and have the Bengals "future" be more of a "present."