Salk: Seahawks betting on Geno Smith, but it leads to a big question

Mar 6, 2023, 5:55 PM | Updated: Mar 7, 2023, 9:00 am
Seahawks Geno Smith Pete Carroll...
Seahawks QB Geno Smith talks with coach Pete Carroll during a Jan. 1, 2023 game against the Jets. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

A year ago, Seahawks ownership chose Pete Carroll and John Schneider over Russell Wilson. Team chair Jody Allen decided to bet on Pete and John and, so far, that has proven to be the right choice.

To use a blackjack analogy, Allen hit on 12 and got a nine. She took a difficult choice and made it work. But with the surviving duo committing to quarterback Geno Smith with a large new contract, they are making their own bet. And much like when you double down on 11, this card may remain face down until the end of the hand.

Three years and $105 million is the reported deal. Eventually we’ll get the details of how much is guaranteed and how it’s broken into signing bonuses and incentives, so we’ll have a better understanding of the actual cap hit – and I’m sure that average annual value of $35 million per year will likely go down. But this is a significant commitment.

Is this a good deal?

Like all contracts, it’ll take some time for that answer to become clear. This deal puts him 10th in the NFL in average annual value among quarterbacks (tied with Kirk Cousins and just behind Derek Carr), which seems like a reasonable spot for him to be, especially if a few other deals get done this offseason that push him back a spot or two. And the $52 million in the first year suggests that the Seahawks will be able to get out of this deal without penalty if he fails to repeat his breakout season or if they find a younger, long-term alternative in the draft. My sense is that the Seahawks have kept themselves safe and have the flexibility to go in another direction if that becomes more appealing.

But in order to answer the question, we have to ask another: Can the Seahawks win a Super Bowl during the life of this contract?

If everything came together perfectly, I think Geno Smith is capable of leading a team to a championship. He showed tremendous leadership last season in addition to his accuracy, strong intermediate passing, mastery of the offense, and generally good decision making. He took the Seahawks to the playoffs, had them ahead at halftime of a postseason game against the more talented 49ers, and showed he was capable of leading a two-minute drive when the team needed him to step up. It was a dream season and he is now reaping the reward. I’m happy for him, too. He spent a long time trying to erase the mistakes he made early in his career and this is the ultimate testament to his success.

As well as he played, I also think he is going to need to find another gear to get this team to a Super Bowl. He was good, but can he beat Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen or Joe Burrow in a title game? That would be a tall order.

Can he continue to grow? The numbers seemed to indicate that he was better in the first half of last season than the second, which leaves room for him to get better but also suggests he may have already regressed a little from his hot start.

Can the roster around him improve? With the natural growth of the young players and a ton of draft capital, it would have to. But can it improve enough to challenge the NFL’s best while he eats up (presumably) more salary cap space than he did in his first campaign as a starter?

All of those things are possible, but it’s hard for me to see any of them as likely. And even the staunchest Geno stan would agree that this team isn’t going anywhere until it makes major upgrades to the defensive front seven.

So yes, the Seahawks could win a title during this contract, but it seems like an extreme long-shot to me. And to bring this back to my blackjack analogy, you had two chances to win when you doubled down: the dealer could bust or you could pull a better card. Well, if the team can’t improve enough with Geno’s deal, the dealer has just drawn a 20. That means you need that upside-down card to get you to 21.

And that’s why this deal is so connected to April 27. Because with two picks in the first round (and two more in the second), the Seahawks could still look for Geno’s successor in this year’s NFL Draft.

A salary of $52 million in Year 1 suggests to me that the team can get out of this deal after one year if they want. That would essentially make Geno a gap/placeholder if the Seahawks decide to draft a quarterback in the first round. It is certainly possible, and if they are in love with one of this year’s stars, they should absolutely not be deterred by this contract.

But what seems more likely is drafting a QB on Day 2 (rounds two or three) that would function as a more of a hedge than a speculative bet. In fact, looking at it through that prism, this looks kind of like an amped up version of the Matt Flynn deal. Yes, Seattle paid Flynn some money prior to the 2012 season, but the Seahawks were adamant that he would compete for the QB job, and Tarvaris Jackson was retained, as well. When Russell Wilson won the job, the Seahawks could easily move on from Flynn a year later.

In this case, no one will say that Geno isn’t the presumptive starter. But I can’t help but think they want someone else to be ready to assume that mantle if he falters or if that draft pick has superstar potential on a rookie contract.

If that happens, the dealer will flip over that face card and Pete and John will double their money.

When Russell Wilson was traded, I believed that Pete and John would be given a chance to find their next quarterback. Right now, it looks like they believe in Geno enough to say he is that guy. By the end of this year’s draft, we’ll know just how committed to that they really are.

More on the Seahawks’ deal with Geno Smith

• News story: Seahawks, QB Geno Smith agree to terms on contract extension
The Score’s Jordan Schultz: ‘Geno really wanted to stay’ with Seahawks
Video: Wyman & Bob react to reported Geno Smith deal with Seahawks

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