STACY ROST

Rost: How Smith won Seahawks’ QB job, what to watch with Garoppolo

Aug 27, 2022, 9:36 AM
Seahawks Geno Smith...
Geno Smith throws a pass in the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Geno Smith didn’t win the Seahawks starting quarterback job with numbers that jumped off the stat sheet. Instead, he won it with a single number: zero.

Geno Smith wins Seahawks starting QB job for Week 1 opener vs Broncos

Zero fumbles, zero interceptions, zero turnovers across three starts.

Against Dallas, Smith was 3-of-6 and took a 14-yard sack on a drive that ended with a field goal. That would be a more efficient-looking stat line were it not for a trio of drops. So, too, would his night against the Bears last Thursday when receivers dropped a several passes.

Over three games, Smith was 23-of-39 (58%) for 256 yards. That won’t provide too much excitement, understandably, for fans who are nervous about his zero passing touchdowns. Nor will it stifle the curiosity of those who remain intrigued by Drew Lock’s potential.

But on a night when the Seahawks turned the ball over five times, Smith’s ball security became the most important stat of all.

Pete Carroll has a simple rule for his team. Technically there are a number of team rules, but on its face the focus has always been this: it’s all about the ball.

Carroll values an offense that avoids turning the ball over and a defense that looks to rip, pressure, and force the ball away. Avoid making your own mistakes and spring on those of your opponent, control the clock, win the turnover battle. Some teams have been far more aggressive with their offense – Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Vegas featured more pass plays, which is an approach that’s more efficient but also inherently riskier. It’s made more risky with less experience and talent at quarterback.

“It’s a huge statement, taking care of the football,” Carroll said Friday when asked about the important of avoiding turnovers. “We’ve been one of the best teams in the last couple years taking care of the football… and the decision making goes along with that, treasuring the football also, because it’s so hard to win when you turn it over.”

Smith has played a more careful and efficient preseason than his counterpart. (Don’t overlook another important factor, which is that Carroll has pointed all offseason to Smith’s grasp of the offense.) Lock’s stat line through two games is 23-of-37 (62%) for 249 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions, and a fumble. His play is more exciting when it works out, but costlier when it doesn’t. And for the Seahawks, that isn’t worth the gamble in a primetime reunion with Russell Wilson in Week 1.

Fast Facts: Lock throws 3 picks in 27-26 Seahawks loss to Cowboys

Here’s where things get a bit more interesting for Seattle: does the risk-cost reward change after that highly-anticipated reunion?

The Seahawks didn’t trade Russell Wilson for Drew Lock – they traded him for two first-round picks and two second-round picks. But the deal landed them a 25-year-old quarterback and the team may be intrigued enough to start Lock during the regular season.

What about Jimmy Garoppolo?

There’s also former San Francisco 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo remains with the 49ers, though the team has publicly committed to moving on to Trey Lance. They could hang onto him through the first half of the season with the hope that another team finds itself in dire straights with unexpected injuries and is forced to make a trade (that would need to be before late October’s deadline).It would give them insurance behind Lance and a potential trade chip. But it would be expensive.

Garoppolo carries a $26.95 million cap hit, of which only $2 million is guaranteed. So the 49ers would save about $24 million in cap space by moving on, assuming he’s released healthy and avoids an injury guarantee. If he’s on the roster by opening day on Sept. 11, the 49ers would be on the hook for the full deal.

They might make a decision before then, so keep your eye on Aug. 30. It’s the deadline for teams to narrow their rosters to the final 53.

The 49ers might choose to release Garoppolo then to make roster space for a player they’d like to take into the regular season.

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