Rost: Will the franchise tag figure into Seahawks’ QB answer for 2023?

Feb 22, 2023, 10:40 AM

Seahawks Geno Smith...

Geno Smith of the Seattle Seahawks throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 13, 2022. (Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images)

(Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images)

The Seahawks have a decision to make.

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Well, technically they have a ton of important decisions to make — who to retain, who to release, and who to take with the highest draft pick general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have ever had in Seattle. But the most pressing and immediate question is about the most important position in football (go figure), and when it comes to making a decision on pending free agent quarterback Geno Smith, the Seahawks just got one more option.

Tuesday opened the league’s franchise tag window. From now until 1 p.m. on March 7, teams can use either the franchise or transition tag on players who are set to become unrestricted free agents.

What to know about the franchise tag

The franchise tag is effectively a fully guaranteed one-year deal, but placing the tag on a player doesn’t mean that’ll be the final outcome. Teams can tag and then trade a player (the Seahawks did this with defensive end Frank Clark in 2019), or tag a player and reach an agreement on a long-term deal (there is a deadline to reach an agreement, but it’s not until midsummer).

Under the non-exclusive tag, a player can even negotiate a deal with another team, though the steep cost in draft compensation (two first-round picks) if the tagging team declines to match the offer makes this the unlikeliest of the three outcomes. The point is that a player who’s been franchise tagged doesn’t always stay franchise tagged.

There are two types of franchise tags, but the one people refer to most often is the non-exclusive tag. This tag pays the player the average of the top five salaries at his position from the previous five years or 120% of the previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. For quarterbacks in 2023, that number is $32.42 million.

Even with uncertainty at QB, there’s reason to question whether Seattle would even use the tag. The Seahawks have used the franchise tag just twice during Carroll’s tenure: first on kicker Olindo Mare in 2010 and on Clark in 2019.

Should the Seahawks tag Geno?

Does Smith at quarterback give you your best chance to win in 2023? That’s the question you’re asking when you consider this because a franchise tag is a one-year deal that counts entirely against the salary cap. It keeps you from committing more money long-term but can be restricting for that season.

If then the Seahawks are convinced Smith is their best path to winning over even the next two years, why tag him when you could break up his salary on a “long-term” deal?

“(With) the franchise tag, you’ve got to pay all of that in one season,” ESPN’s Max Kellerman said in an interview in early February with Bump and Stacy.

Kellerman admitted he preferred fellow pending free agent quarterback Daniel Jones over Smith, but he added that Smith gives Seattle a good chance to remain competitive in the immediate future.

“So you give a guy a three-year deal and guarantee two years of the money, you’re spreading it out over three seasons. For cap hit purposes, if it’s $33 million you really go up to a little under $40 million and you’re saving money on the cap. And that’s why you do it,” Kellerman said. “So, it seems to me it’s a no-brainer that Geno’s at least two years guaranteed at $70 million over a three-year contract, right? Why wouldn’t you do that?”

Full disclosure: I personally prefer the option of keeping Smith on a short-term deal – with an average annual value close to this year’s tag price that doesn’t guarantee money past Year 2 – plus adding a drafted quarterback into the competition. If you believe Drew Lock can keep the team competitive, then you’ll pass on that.

Related: Are we overlooking Drew Lock as Seahawks starting QB option?

I do believe the team really likes Lock as an option and he’s certainly cheaper than Smith. But that choice is also riskier, and Smith with a lowered cap hit in 2023 still makes it possible to keep consistency at quarterback and improve the defense.

Right now, neither Smith nor Lock appears to be Seattle’s long-term answer at quarterback, but it’s worth questioning whether that option is realistic in 2023.

If you don’t think Seattle will tag anyone, why do I care?

First of all, lower your voice. Secondly, they might still do it. But good question! And my answer is that there are a number of free agents that would be great fits in Seattle and those players are also tag candidates. Chief among them is Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne, who according to The Athletic is expected to be tagged.

If Payne is off the market, that still leaves other options, like Eagles’ defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who has been a popular name linked to Seattle. But it’s a situation worth monitoring for a team desperate to take a step forward on that side of the ball in 2023.

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Rost: Will the franchise tag figure into Seahawks’ QB answer for 2023?