$35 million? Salary expert breaks down a Seahawks-Geno Smith deal

Jan 19, 2023, 11:55 AM

Seahawks Geno Smith...

Seahawks QB Geno Smith celebrates after defeating the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 4, 2022. (Harry How/Getty Images)

(Harry How/Getty Images)

With the Seahawks officially in offseason mode, all eyes are on what happens with quarterback Geno Smith.

Rost: What are the Seahawks’ options with QB Geno Smith?

At 32 years old, Smith was the breakout star of the NFL this season, earning Pro Bowl honors while leading the league in completion percentage and ranking among the top QBs in football in yards and touchdowns. In a year where expectations were very low for the Seahawks, Smith guided them to a 9-8 record and a playoff berth.

Smith just wrapped up another one-year contract, though, and is set to hit free agency. And unlike his past visits to the open market when he was still a backup QB, Smith is primed for a major payday after showing he can be one of the best starting quarterbacks in football.

So what exactly would a new contract for Smith look like? That’s one of many Geno-related questions Wyman and Bob had for Spotrac founder and managing editor Michael Ginnitti. Ginnitti had plenty of insight into the situation during a Wednesday conversation on Seattle Sports 710 AM.

First off, this situation is a unique one as Smith was a starter for the first time since 2014. That was his second year in the NFL, while the 2022 season was Smith’s 10th year in the league.

“We don’t see too many Year 10 breakout seasons, right? This is kind of new territory for everybody here,” Ginnitti said. “… But look, it’s gonna start with the franchise tag. That’s how we start most of these conversations, and it’s no different here.”

There are three different types of franchise tags. One is the exclusive tag, which for a quarterback is worth roughly $45 million guaranteed. This type of tag would keep that player under team control for the next season and wouldn’t allow for other teams to negotiate with him in free agency, but it comes with a steeper price.

Another type of tag is the transition tag, which pays the player the average of the top-10 highest-paid players at their position. It’s the cheaper of the three type of franchise tags, but it still allows for the player to test free agency and potentially leave. The player’s former team would have right of first refusal to match any offers the player gets, and if the player were to leave, the team wouldn’t receive any compensation.

The final type of franchise tag is the non-exclusive tag, which would be a little over $32 million for a quarterback this offseason. With this type of tag, the player can still test free agency and the team would have right of first refusal, but in this case, the team would gain two first-round picks if that tagged player signed elsewhere.

In Smith’s case, the non-exclusive franchise tag makes the most sense for him and the Seahawks, Ginnitti said.

“Quite frankly, if somebody wants to throw an offer sheet on the $32 million franchise tag, they would have a discussion about taking those two first-round picks and letting him go,” Ginnitti said. “So to me, it’s kind of a win-win (for the Seahawks) outside of having to deal with that cap hit. You’re gonna take up most of your your offseason cap space to offer that franchise tag, but I just think that’s the route you’re gonna have to go unless they’re deep into negotiations to lower things right now with an extension.”

When taking the franchise tag into consideration, what does a new contract for Smith look like?

“If we do the math we usually do on guys with these extensions, what’s the cost for two franchise tags? That’s $32.5 million and then $39 million (if tagged in two straight offseasons). So we’re talking about a two-year contract that averages over $35 million a year,” Ginnitti said. “If I’m Geno Smith’s agent, that’s how I’m starting this conversation. I know that’s bonkers because this guy was a minimum salary quarterback 18 months ago, but when you can do what he just did, and you’ve got a playoff game behind you now, that’s kind of the going rate. I would value him mathematically speaking at $35 million on a multi-year contract.”

Dave Wyman asked Ginnitti if Smith’s breakout season coming in his 10th year could cause some hesitation in paying him so much money.

“Yeah, I don’t know how you look behind that right now. That’s a glaring ‘What the heck happened?’ Was it really just bad coaching and bad situations for a decade, and then he just found his sweet spot? That’s perfectly possible,” he said.

An ideal career arc for Smith now would be like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Ginnitti said. Garoppolo, a 2014 draft pick, was a backup in New England for three seasons and shined in a couple of starts in 2016, leading to him being traded to the 49ers to be their starter in 2017.

“Can he truly be a Garoppolo-type player that is just in the perfect system, gets paid well to be there for four or five more years and then rides off into the sunset, whether it’s to backup on other rosters or not? But I think that’s kind of what Seattle looks at as the best-case scenario, and they’re probably pleased to pay (Smith) for that,” Ginnitti said.

During his final conversations with the media after Seattle’s playoff exit last weekend, Smith was very appreciative of what the Seahawks did for his career. Both Smith and the Seahawks have made it clear they want to reunite, which has caused some speculation Smith could take less to return to Seattle.

Bob Stelton asked Ginnitti if he would be surprised if Smith’s new deal was for less than $30 million annually, especially if there were some bonuses and incentives he can earn.

“No, I wouldn’t … (Tom) Brady has done that forever, kind of restructured his contract every 18 months and built in some incentives that stay off the cap, but he ends up earning them in the long run and gets his cash at the end of the day. So it’s not inconceivable,” Ginnitti said. “I certainly understand the mindset there where a guy feels like he’s got to give a little bit back here. I’m just thinking from all angles here, and if I’m his agent, there’s no way I’m letting that happen. This is his one time to cash in.”

Listen to the full interview with Ginnitti at this link or in the player below.

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