Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith is 32 years old. He has never had a major injury (save for when his teammate punched him in the face seven years ago). He also seems like a lock to win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award. The betting markets currently have him as a -800 favorite to win the award; this gives him an 89% implied probability of winning. Pretty decent odds! Whether or not you agree with Smith winning the award (some have argued coming back from… well, being bad… should not qualify him for it), it cannot be denied that Smith has enjoyed a career renaissance this season.
Smith’s numbers leap off the page no matter how you look at them. Traditional counting stats? He ranks fourth in the league in touchdown passes (22) and sixth in the league in passing yards (3,169). Traditional efficiency markers? He is first in the league in completion percentage (72.7%) and is tied with Patrick Mahomes for third in the league in yards per attempt (8.1). More advanced numbers? Smith ranks third in success rate (53.7%), eighth in expected points added per play (0.158), and first in completion percentage over expectation (7.6%). Do you want an eye test to back this up? Smith ranks fourth among NFL quarterbacks in PFF grade this season. Geno Smith!
As weird as it may be to conceptualize, Smith’s play has put him firmly in the upper echelon of quarterbacks. At least for this season, Smith has been elite; that much cannot be denied.
However, Smith’s breakout season came at an interesting point in his career and Seattle’s organizational timeline. He got a chance to start in what was viewed as a transition (read: tank) year for the Seahawks following the trade of former franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. They came into the season with the third lowest projected win total (5.5) in the NFL, per Vegas odds. Due in part to Smith’s performance and in part to an excellent draft class that has yielded five starters (along with promising edge defender Boye Mafe), the Seahawks have already far exceeded expectations, sitting at 7-5 and firmly in the playoff hunt with five games left in the regular season.
Smith was supposed to hand the quarterback job to Drew Lock, a younger player viewed as having more upside (because 32-year-old quarterbacks don’t have upside, right?), at some point during the season. The Seahawks, partly due to this abysmal quarterback situation, were supposed to be bad. Really bad. Neither of these things happened. Now, things should be looking up for the franchise. And they are. Seattle has an excellent core of young players on offense, headlined by wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, bookend tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, and running back Kenneth Walker III. Defensively, cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant pair with linebacker Jordyn Brooks and Quandre Diggs to form the skeletal outline for an exciting defense. Not to mention, Seattle is armed with a war chest of draft picks from the Wilson trade (they own a projected top-five pick in the first- and second rounds from Denver in this year’s draft). The position they must address in the short and long run is the position they found a gem at this year: quarterback.
Smith’s contract expires at the end of the season. The Seahawks will face a decision on what to do with him. On the surface, the answer seems relatively simple: Smith has played at an elite level this season. The Seahawks made a lot of progress as a team. Taking a step back at the most important position in sports seems foolish. They can add to their young core elsewhere on the roster with five top-100 picks if they choose to keep Smith. They should probably keep him.
The Seahawks have two avenues they can go down if they want to keep Smith: the franchise tag or an extension. The franchise tag can be looked at as either a lower risk or a higher risk proposition; it is high-risk because if Smith plays at this level again next season, he will be worth even more money on a long-term deal due to more of a proven track record of production. It is low risk because if Smith regresses back to his mean, Seattle will only be locked into him for one year.
An extension with Smith would likely make more sense for both the team and the player; for Smith, it gives him more guaranteed money upfront when he has not made much (relatively speaking) in his career. For the team, it avoids the high-variance game they would play in franchising Smith, and it keeps his cap hit lower for the 2023 Seahawks, allowing them to build out a stronger roster around him.
A solid way to conceptualize an extension for Smith would be working off the figure for his franchise tag. According to OverTheCap, the franchise tag for quarterbacks is expected to be around $31.5 million this coming offseason. Smith should use this as a leverage point in extension talks with Seattle. Meanwhile, the Seahawks could peg the $31.5 million range as a solid starting point for their offer in average annual salary to Smith; an NFL general manager agrees, stating that a reasonable deal for Smith would range between $30-35 million in average annual value.
The average annual salary in question for Smith comes with some sticker price shock (he’s still Geno Smith! It’s a little weird!), but it would slot him somewhere between the tenth and 14th highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL by average annual salary (sandwiched between Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan). Based on his level of play this year, Smith should be paid more; based on his lack of a track record before this year, Smith should be paid less. The sides should find a middle ground somewhere in this neighborhood.
According to Ian Rapoport, that is what Seattle wants to do. That is what they probably will do. But the path exists for Seattle to do something out of the box this offseason. They will own a likely top-five, certain top-ten pick courtesy of the Broncos. This has been touted as a strong quarterback class for years now. The Seahawks were the franchise that reportedly wanted to move on from the then-expensive Russell Wilson to trade for Josh Allen (a move that would have been ridiculed at the time… and look at it how it would look like now). They know better than any team the value of having a quarterback on a rookie contract; they built their mini-dynasty in the 2010s off of having Wilson on one.
Would it really be surprising to see Seattle fall in love with the tantalizing potential of having Will Levis, Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, or even Anthony Richardson on a rookie contract, with most of the rest of their core on rookie contracts? The Seahawks could still build a lot of their team out through the draft. They’d have a boatload of cap space to use elsewhere on the roster without Geno Smith taking up a significant chunk of their financial allocation. The Seahawks and Geno Smith will probably get a deal done. But that is at least something to keep in mind.
- Feb 07, 2023
- Feb 07, 2023