JOE FANN

Fann: Seahawks QB Geno Smith’s free agency will be fascinating case study

Jan 23, 2023, 4:48 PM

Seattle Seahawks Geno Smith...

Geno Smith during a 2022 Seattle Seahawks game against the Carolina Panthers. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

For the entirety of Geno Smith’s rise throughout the 2022 NFL season, I felt convinced that his return to the Seahawks in 2023 was a certainty. It seemed like a no-brainer that, at the very least, Seattle would use the franchise tag in order to retain the veteran QB.

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The logic was sound in my head. The $32 million tag number keeps Smith on the roster without committing to a multi-year extension worth significantly more guaranteed money. That salary cap hit, while still immense, wouldn’t even put him into the top 10 of quarterback salaries despite him playing like one this season.

While I still believe that rationale is sound, I no longer have confidence that Seattle will utilize the franchise tag. My guess is that $30-plus million is higher than general manager John Schneider’s “drop dead number” when sitting down at the negotiation table. It would also eliminate all of the team’s projected cap space available to them this offseason. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Seattle attributed some of Smith’s success to the system in place from a coaching and culture standpoint.

Regardless, signing Smith to an extension would be preferrable in order to give the team flexibility to reduce the cap hit in 2023, thus creating more space in the immediate future.

But without a tag, Smith seems likely to test the waters in free agency in order to maximize what will be the first significant payday of his career. Maybe the two sides will reach an agreement before the new league year begins in mid-March, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Seahawks decided to gamble that Smith’s market will be more modest than the 32-year-old quarterback is hoping for.

There’s ample reasoning to support both sides of this conversation regarding whether or not Smith deserves and will ultimately get paid somewhere in the ballpark of $30 million annually. That will make his next few months a fascinating case study.

From Smith’s standpoint, it’s as simple as pulling up a rundown of quarterbacks getting paid above that $30 million threshold as a pseudo mic drop. Of the 13 QBs that comprise that list, Smith was objectively better than Russell Wilson ($49 million average annual value), Kyler Murray ($46 million), Deshaun Watson ($46 million), Derek Carr ($40.5 million), Dak Prescott (40 million), Matthew Stafford ($40 million), Carson Wentz ($32 million) and Matt Ryan ($30 million) in 2022. That’s without including Ryan Tannehill ($29.5 million).

Smith will need to be realistic and understand his one standout season will be met with some degree of skepticism and caution by teams. Even so, I’d understand Smith having a hard time signing on the dotted line for anything egregiously lower than $30 million annually given the numbers stated above.

The most significant layer of this conversation is differentiating between what Smith deserves based on the current quarterback market and what is prudent for teams when it comes to making an offer.

I side with Smith and believe he’s worthy of every penny he’ll ask for given the recent history of the QB market. That’s why NFL.com and Pro Football Focus have him listed third and second in their respective free agent rankings.

But Sunday’s NFC Championship Game offered a strong case for why a reset needs to be made when it comes to spending on quarterbacks. It has gotten out of hand, again, as evidenced by the numbers mentioned above, and there are only a small handful of guys actually worthy of such paydays.

There’s no denying the Cowboys are in a tough spot with Prescott making $40 million a year despite being nowhere near as good as Patrick Mahomes, whose $45 million AAV contract feels like a bargain by comparison.

The issue in anticipating some sort of reset is that Prescott is still a darn good quarterback when compared to what most of the league has under center. There aren’t 32 guys in the world capable of playing quarterback at a high level in the NFL, which is why any semblance of competency has been rewarded so handsomely.

This season is a great example. The Dolphins, Jets, Browns, Titans, Colts and Commanders all would have likely been playoff teams with Smith at the helm. You could probably throw the entire NFC South into that list as well. So when so many teams remain QB-needy, it would be surprising to me if a strong market didn’t materialize for Smith. It’s also worth noting that a 2-3 year deal with Smith wouldn’t keep a team from drafting a quarterback for the future.

All of this is moot if Seattle reaches an agreement with Smith on a new contract prior to free agency. But I think Smith’s situation makes for a fantastic discussion nonetheless.

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