Rost: Even after Smith’s Pro Bowl season, Seahawks face big questions at QB

Feb 10, 2023, 3:59 PM

Seahawks QB Geno Smith...

Geno Smith of the Seattle Seahawks takes the field against the New York Giants at Lumen Field on October 30, 2022. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

(Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Admit it: you were surprised by Geno Smith’s season for the Seahawks.

Seahawks QB Geno Smith named NFL Comeback Player of the Year

At least most of us were. Sure, there a couple fans and critics who thought a Pro Bowl season from a longtime backup was truly possible. And if you’re one of them, congratulations, take a bow and save your bragging rights. But if you’re doubting whether the bulk of critics and viewers questioned Smith, all you need to do is take a step back to training camp.

NFL Network analyst Adam Schein called Seattle’s quarterback situation “the most embarrassing, saddest, pathetic quarterback competition of all time.” The Athletic’s Mike Sando ranked Smith 35th on his Quarterback Tiers (if you’re wondering, yes, that means there were a couple backups ranked ahead of him). FOX Sports’ Jason McIntyre was so convinced of Seattle’s poor decision making that he bet he’d shave a Seahawks logo into his hair if the team finished with a winning record. To the credit of all three analysts, they were far from the only critical voices and all addressed their takes after the season. Schien admitted he was dead wrong, Sando re-evaluated his QB Tiers at season’s end noting that he was going off of the stats he had available at the time (keep in mind 2022 was Smith’s first ever Pro Bowl nod), and McIntyre followed through on his bet.

It’s not just national critics. I was at training camp, where in open practices neither quarterback obviously outplayed the other. There were no flashy plays, at least not consistently, to signal that Smith was clearly ahead of Lock in the quarterback battle, nor that Smith had the potential to be one of the league’s better starters that season. I heard as much from several other voices within the industry, some of whom were confused as to why Lock wasn’t getting more first-team reps. In truth, Lock outplayed Smith’s conservative approach during the team’s official scrimmage at Lumen Field.

Fans were confused, too. Our local textline for our station was flooded with messages advocating for Lock to get more time. At least a couple were convinced there was a conspiracy on the part of local media to have coverage favoring Smith. There wasn’t – obviously – but it had become clear by then that Smith, who’d taken almost all first-team reps since minicamp, was the likely starter. And when he was named as such by Carroll, and the announcement was posted to the team’s Twitter account, there was plenty of huffing and puffing in the replies.

Honestly, it was fair. All of it. Smith was abysmally inconsistent over his first two seasons as a starter with the Jets, and his fall from grace landed him a backup job with three different teams. There was no recent starting experience to go off of, only limited appearances in relief.

But that was what we had. Players and those close with the team had another view.

Consider this from Sando’s re-evaluation of his tiers:

“The single Tier-3 vote Smith commanded before the season came from someone with inside information; the voter had been a member of the Seattle staff while Smith worked behind the scenes to improve his game, without many on the outside noticing.”

I heard the same sentiment from someone connected with the team, who told me that during closed practices – when the team was diving more obviously into the playbook – Smith’s skill was more apparant.

Don’t take my word for it. Wide receiver Tyler Lockett was asked what fans should know about Smith during an appearance with Bump & Stacy Thursday.

“I don’t think it really surprised any of us in house,” Lockett said. “I mean, we’ve got the opportunity ever since Geno came to see everything that he can do. And the thing that a lot of people don’t understand too is that when he was with the twos, he was always going against the No. 1 defense. And so a lot of people don’t really understand that when they see people who was on scout team move up with the ones, it’s like well, they’ve gone against the best defenses numerous times every single day. And so when he finally got his opportunity, it just showed that all the work, the dedication, the mindset, all that stuff played a part in him finally getting his opportunity. A lot of people, they just want to wait until their chance is finally there and then it’s like, ‘I’m gonna start working hard, I’m gonna start watching film.’ But it’s like in order for that opportunity to even come about for him, he had to be able to show within those years when he wasn’t playing his capabilities and what he was able to do so that when that opportunity did open up a team could have that faith in him to know he could be that type of player.”

He won Comeback Player of the Year, set the franchise single-season passing record, and was named to a Pro Bowl. He didn’t just get by as a game manager; according to Pro Football Focus, Smith had 14 passing touchdowns of 20-or-more yards, two more than the next-closest quarterback, and he was the only quarterback in the NFC to throw for 30 or more touchdowns.

All that’s left for Geno Smith to decide is where he’s going to play this season.

The Seahawks also have a decision to make. But this is no easy one, because in addition to the accolades and accomplishments there are fair concerns. Smith will be 33 this season, older than his younger and cheaper backup Drew Lock (also a free agent). He has a single year as a starter for Seattle. He was one of the better quarterbacks in the league statistically but didn’t cement himself as a franchise starter with 400-yard games and come-from-behind victories. His play was an absolute steal at what was initially a $3.5 million contract – will it feel that way at $35-plus million?

The Seahawks will either gamble on Smith keeping to his Pro Bowl form at a higher price point, gamble on Lock playing like a consistently good starter, or gamble on a new name in this year’s draft. In fact, that they’ll be making a gamble at quarterback in 2023 is just about the only sure thing we know so far. This time next year, we’ll know whether or not it paid off.

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