Notebook: Could this be final NFL season for Steve Hutchinson?
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For the second consecutive year, Minnesota Vikings left guard Steve Hutchinson will finish the season on injured reserve.
This time, it's worth wondering if the seven-time All-Pro has played his final NFL game.
Hutchinson continues to experience symptoms from the concussion he suffered on Dec. 18 against New Orleans, coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday, strongly hinting the issue could factor in the veteran's decision on whether to retire this offseason.
"I'm hoping that things will get better soon for him with the concussions for sure," Frazier said. "That's something that I'm sure he and his family will discuss, what his future is and how much longer he wants to play professional football."
Privately, Hutchinson has been telling teammates for some time that he plans to retire when his contract runs out after the 2012 season. The combination of health problems and the Vikings' rebuilding operation now might hasten that process.
Hutchinson, 34, is due $7 million in salary and bonuses next season -- a hefty sum for a declining player who had shoulder problems in 2009, a broken thumb in 2010 and now the concussion.
The Vikings, who placed Hutchinson on injured reserve on Tuesday, might replace both of their guards in the offseason to save salary-cap space and develop younger players. Right guard Anthony Herrera is 31 and due $2.75 million in 2012.
Hutchinson spent his first five NFL seasons with Seattle before signing a seven-year megadeal with the Vikings in 2006 that included a $10 million bonus. He has two children with his wife, Landyn, and recently built a house in the Twin Cities.
"He's still a guy who can play and be a positive addition to your football team," Frazier said. "He's got some decisions that he'll have to make after the season is over."
One more run for Kleinsasser?
Jimmy Kleinsasser will play his final NFL game on Sunday, and the Vikings want to send their veteran tight end out on a high note.
"No doubt about it," Frazier said. "I'm not letting out any secrets there. If we can get down to the 1, Chicago, you better stop number 40. We're going to find a way to try to get him in the end zone if we can."
Kleinsasser, who plans to retire after the season, hasn't scored a touchdown since Dec. 23, 2007, and has scored only six times in his career -- four of them in 2003, when he recorded his last two rushing attempts.
His 17 catches last season were a five-year high. But Kleinsasser's role has diminished substantially this season -- he played only nine snaps in Saturday's win at Washington -- and he's touched the ball only once, on a 4-yard reception at Chicago on Oct. 16.
"It's obviously a big part of my life kind of closing out," Kleinsasser said. "I feel pretty good about it. My wife and I had this decision made going into the season, so it's not just some knee-jerk reaction to anything.
"I went into this season just going in and trying to enjoy every part of it and just trying to savor the little stuff that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle so I've had a great time despite the record, just looking back at the little things."
At age 34, Kleinsasser has flirted with retirement for years, annually taking a photo with family members at midfield after each season's finale, just in case.
"He's always been one of my heroes," said linebacker Chad Greenway, a fellow native of the Dakotas who grew up watching Kleinsasser play for the Vikings.
"To get to see him end on his terms, play for one organization -- which has also been a goal of mine, because of the way he's gone about it -- unbelievable teammate, great father and husband. It's been an absolute joy to be able to play with him."
Added fellow tight end Visanthe Shiancoe: "Everything about (Kleinsasser) is just professional. Definitely, it's going to be a sad day. Hopefully we'll have him leave with a 'W'. I'm going to get his jersey. I asked him to sign it, authentic jersey so I can hang it up in the house. It's been an honor to play with him."
Leaving an opening
Frazier reiterated on Wednesday that rookie Christian Ponder is the Vikings' starting quarterback.
But he hedged again when asked if the organization must commit fully to their first-round draft pick for Ponder to have a chance to succeed, as opposed to perhaps creating an open competition with backup Joe Webb next year.
"We'll talk about a lot of things when the season is over, but I think you always want to do whatever is best for your team, whatever gives your team the best chance to win," Frazier said.
"Right now, Christian being our starting quarterback -- that's our belief. But you always want to try to figure out what gives your team the best place to win, period, and not let some other circumstances or events dictate who's in the starting lineup."
Webb led four consecutive scoring drives on the way to a win on Saturday at Washington in relief of Ponder, who suffered a concussion early in the third quarter but is expected to return this week.
Webb, meanwhile, remains upbeat despite the fact he's headed back to the sideline.
"You can't sit down and mope around and let your teammates see you down," Webb said. "You just have to be positive and continue to work hard and good things will come."
Webb acknowledged he would like the chance to compete for the starting job in training camp next summer.
"Any time you're (on the roster, you're) competing for the starting job," he said. "Whether you're the third string, second string, you're always competing for the job."
Defensive end Jared Allen hasn't given up hope of setting the NFL single-season sack record, despite being four off the mark with only game remaining.
Allen has 18.5 sacks; the Giants' Michael Strahan finished the 2001 season with 22.5 sacks.
"It's absolutely within reach," Allen said. " ... I've gotten four in a game before so it's possible."
The lone four-sack game of Allen's career came on Oct. 5, 2009 against the Packers, when he got to quarterback Aaron Rodgers 4.5 times in a Monday night game at the Metrodome.
Green Bay starting left tackle Chad Clifton did not play because of injury and Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang were unable to slow Allen.
On Sunday, Allen will go against Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb.
"My prayers this week, I said, 'Lord I'm going to do my part,'" Allen said. "'If it's in your will, please let it happen.' I'm going to have fun. I'm going to go out and play as hard as I can and see what happens."
Allen said he doesn't remember the Giants game against the Packers on Jan. 6, 2002 in which Strahan set the record. Allen, though, has watched the highlight of the play in which Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre slid to the ground and Strahan simply fell on top of him.
"Brett, c'mon," Allen said, laughing.
Allen, however, objected when asked if he felt Strahan's mark should have an asterisk by it because of Favre's willingness to go to the ground.
"No, never an asterisk," he said. "A sack is a sack is a sack. I don't care how you get it. I'm just hoping I get some of that treatment. (Chicago's Josh) McCown, feel free to trip and fall and I'll touch you. I don't have to be painful.
"I'm going to give Strahan a run for his money. If it happens, thank God. If it doesn't, it's not going to take away from my season."
A record to avoid
The Vikings have never gone a season without winning a single game in their division, but that could happen if they don't beat the Bears on Sunday. The Vikings already were swept by Detroit and Green Bay.
"The fact we haven't won a division game is just ... it makes you want to throw up," Allen said. "Especially, it seems like just the blink of an eye we were on the top of the division. ... As a competitor, I don't want to lose. A couple of those guys (the Vikings play against) live in Arizona. So I can't go back not winning one game in the division."
Allen makes his offseason home in Arizona.
Not going there
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe could be playing his final game with the Vikings on Sunday, but he isn't about to discuss that subject. At least not yet.
"Talk to me after the game and maybe I'll have things to say," Shiancoe said Wednesday.
Shiancoe is in the final season of his contract and with Kyle Rudolph's role likely to expand in 2012 there is a chance Shiancoe will look elsewhere.
"I'm very careful with my choice of words right now," he said.
Shiancoe has 36 receptions for 409 yards and three touchdowns this season. His reception total since 2009 has gone from 56 to 47 to 36 and 36 again this season. He had a career-high 11 touchdown receptions in 2009 but has caught a total of eight since.
• Running back Adrian Peterson will have surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the next few days.
• Guard Anthony Herrera (lower back) did not practice Wednesday and safety Jamarca Sanford (shoulder) was limited. Cornerbacks Asher Allen (concussion, shoulder) and Benny Sapp (shoulder) and Ponder did not miss any practice time.
• Running back Marion Barber (calf), tight end Kellen Davis (illness), defensive end Julius Peppers (not injury related) and linebacker Brian Urlacher (knee) did not practice for the Bears on Wednesday. Wide receiver Devin Hester (ankle), linebacker Nick Roach (shin), guard Chris Spencer (back) and defensive end Corey Wooton (concussion) were limited.
• Greenway was named the Vikings' Community Man of the Year for his charity work.
• Wide receiver Percy Harvin was named the Korey Stringer Good Guy Award winner for his cooperation with the media.