Salk: Geno Smith, the ‘E Word,’ and why he’s better than the best for Seahawks
There were many who didn’t think the 2022 Seahawks would win three games this year, let alone three in a row. But here we are, nearly halfway through this season, and this team appears to be one of the contenders.
They sit alone in first place in the NFC West and have just two games left against opponents currently above .500 (the Chiefs and Jets). Their defense looks unrecognizable from the unit that started the year. Their rookie class is contributing beyond anything we have seen in this town in a generation. Their head coach is having a blast connecting with young players and developing a new core with emerging leaders.
All of these surprises are major factors in their surprising ascent of the NFL power rankings. And at the center of it all is the most astonishing story of the season: Geno Smith.
Yes, I was a hater. I didn’t think he was even a bottom-tier starting quarterback, let alone a serviceable one, let alone a good one, let alone a (dare I say) great one. But through eight games, he has proven me as wrong as wrong gets. He has been sublime. He has been superb. He has been (and this is a very big word to use when describing an NFL quarterback) … elite.
Whoa. I said it. Geno Smith has been elite.
I wrote it out in its own sentence just to see what it was like to type. Admittedly, it was kind of weird. But by virtually any measure of the position, his play has been elite.
If you want stats, he’s got ’em. First in completion percentage. Third in efficiency. Fourth in QBR. Eighth in yards. He has a 13-3 touchdown-interception ratio.
If you want scouting, he is the No. 2 player at the position according to Pro Football Focus. And if you just have eyes, you know what you have seen.
Elite quarterback play.
TD LOCKETT COMING IN RIGHT ON TIME! 🚀
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) October 30, 2022
But as surprising and amazing as this fact is by itself, it isn’t the best part of the story for the Seahawks or their fans. As crazy as it was to write that Geno Smith was playing at an elite level, wait until you read this next claim!
Geno Smith is playing like an elite quarterback without being paid like one or acting like one.
The first claim is huge in a league where quarterback play can determine your entire existence. But the latter two might have even more impact on the potential success of this team.
Relative to his peers starting at quarterback around the league, Geno is not making much money. At $3.5 million, he ranks 36th at the position. Yes, three teams have two quarterbacks making more than Geno. There are 10 quarterbacks who will make 10–times more than he does this year. (Via AAV per OverTheCap).
That leaves the Seahawks with tens of millions of dollars to spend on their roster. To compare him to Russell Wilson (for obvious reasons), they have $45.5 million extra dollars to spend at other positions than the Broncos do. That’s a lot of depth! It allows them to pay DK Metcalf and swallow the injury to Jamal Adams. And for those that have suggested you can’t win in the NFL once your quarterback exceeds a certain percentage of your cap, certainly his 1.5% of their spending would qualify as well under the limit.
But paying too much for your quarterback hasn’t bothered NFL teams this year as much as the last part of my big claim. Some of the elite quarterbacks are acting …weird.
Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Joe Burrow. They might not be No. 1-4 on a ranking list, but heading into this season, you likely wouldn’t get past 10 without naming all of those players. As a group, their teams are 13-19 so far and none of them have a winning record.
There is no one reason for that, and plenty of ink has been spilled trying to figure out why they aren’t playing up to their reputations. But I think my partner Brock Huard might have hit the nail on the head when he used the phrase “time on task.”
It might just be important to practice. It might just be helpful to be around your teammates. It might just be helpful to be fully invested in your team, your craft, and your teammates. And it would be hard for me to argue that these elite quarterbacks lived up to their resumes in that department.
Brady retired, came back, and then missed much of training camp for personal reasons. I don’t begrudge him any of that – he has worked hard to become the greatest of all time – but he got to be the greatest through his investment.
Rodgers had a tumultuous offseason full of cleanses, odd appearances, and what must have been stimulating conversations with Blue of Earth. He has called out his teammates for mental lapses. This from a player that seems to be running the Brett Favre playbook for becoming a prima donna late in his career.
I don’t think I need to go too deep into what has gone wrong in Denver, but remember: the Broncos barely worked in training camp. It was all walkthroughs, light practices, and video shoots for Subway. Not necessarily the best way to introduce a new offensive system with a new signal caller.
To be fair, Burrow probably doesn’t belong on this list. He missed time with an appendectomy but he hasn’t been quite himself this year, and I hoped maybe this would bother Bengals super-fan Justin Barnes.
Regardless, you get my point. Elite quarterbacks are great, but they can be messy. They can get obsessed with power. They can get obsessed with credit. They can get obsessed with fame. And they can spend a lot of time working on projects outside of football. They usually overcome most of these small flaws because of their outstanding talent. But they can make life awkward for their teammates, coaches and others in the organization.
Geno is playing at their level right now, but without any of the baggage. There is a reason Pete Carroll said he was “just one of the guys.” He is!
He doesn’t have video shoots or investment projects. He doesn’t think he deserves a say in personnel or a gameplan that he approves. He isn’t debating retirement or trying to figure out how to practice less. He doesn’t need to balance the demands of the job with the demands of being a star.
And right now, that is the perfect combination.