Last week, an NFL general manager reflected on the 2022 free agency and trade period when he asked a question about the most impactful moves in the league.
“What do you think was the best quarterback move in terms of a signing or a trade?” he asked.
I took a moment to think about it and ran my finger over a list of AFC and NFC teams. It didn’t take me long to realize that the quarterback movement’s offseason was more of a wasteland than I’d thought just a few months ago.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” the GM said. “I think it’s pretty clear.”
I started digging through the carnage. Deshaun Watson is yet to snap with the Cleveland Browns and already has the most impressive contract in NFL history. Matt Ryan and Baker Mayfield have benched with the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers, respectively. Mitchell Trubisky was handed over to Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett after just four starts. The Washington Commanders put Carson Wentz on injured reserve with a finger problem and now appear less inclined to give him his starting job back. Marcus Mariota was a solid bridge for the Atlanta Falcons, and Russell Wilson, well, we don’t even have to get into that mess.
That really left a guy. Geno Smith.
“Yes,” replied the GM. “That’s mine. They re-signed him in the off-season to compete as a starter, so he counts.”
Geno Smith Salary Range for 2023: $23.8M vs $38.4M?
Pound for pound, no question. Seattle signed Smith to a one-year deal with a base salary of $3.5 million and incentives that could increase his earnings to as much as $7 million. In turn, the Seahawks got such a remarkable season from the 32-year-old that you’d have to go all the way back to Rich Gannon’s signing with the Oakland Raiders in 1999 to find a player who thrived this late in his career.
In 10 games, Smith has led the Seahawks to a 6-4 record and first place finish in the NFC West. And he did it with a remarkable 17-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a league-leading 72.8 percent completion rate.
He’s also proven well suited to the downfield passing options on the list, operating a scheme that doesn’t constantly rely on dink-and-dunk plays that can make stats misleading. In fact, everything Smith has done up to this point looks like the stuff of a seasoned veteran quarterback running an offense that should be fighting for postseason wins.
With seven games remaining, he’s undoubtedly one of the best stories in the NFL. And soon, Smith’s future will also be one of the most watched contract talks. As Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told reporters last week, “[T]Here’s a conversation to come. We understand that.”
At this point, only an implosion could prevent the Seahawks and Smith from securing a long-term deal. That being said, Seattle has some tough math to do. Consider how Smith’s value is calculated by the two smartest contract/salary cap websites on the web, spotrac.com and OverTheCap.com. Note the abyss.
According to a calculation that measures a player’s performance and worth compared to his positionmates, OverTheCap estimates Smith entered the Seahawks’ farewell week at a level equivalent to a 2022 salary of $38.4 million . Essentially, he’s worthy of the 10th highest quarterback salary in the NFL. Now compare that to Spotrac’s 2023 market value analysis, which uses an algorithm that essentially considers three years of performance, rather than just 2022. Using a weighted three-year window, Spotrac estimates the median salary of Smith’s next business to be about $23.8 Million.
That Spotrac number is likely to increase as Smith completes 2022 (the third year of analysis). That’s still a revealing nearly $15 million difference between its calculated value for 2022 and its weighted value over a longer period of time. Even more interesting is the number that splits the difference right down the middle: $31.1 million.
This middle ground is notable as the franchise tag for the quarterback position in 2023 is expected to be around $31.5 million. That’s about where NFL general managers believe Smith’s contract talks will begin next offseason. It’s a staggering total considering Smith’s total first 10-year NFL earnings (depending on what incentives he achieves this season) are about to fall in the $14 million to $17 million range . If 2022 ends as it began, Smith’s salary in 2023 will likely double what it was in the previous decade… combined.
Smith seems a perfect fit in Seattle, which takes away some leverage
That’s a realistic goal, according to five GMs and three agents who spoke to Yahoo Sports about how they would approach a similar negotiation.
“I think 30 dollars [million] to $35 million per season is about right,” one general manager said. “Although it wouldn’t surprise me if they used the franchise label on him just to take it another year to be sure.”
“He plays like a top 10 quarterback,” said another general manager. “Maybe even a little bit better. The risk is that it happens later in his career and there just isn’t much success story there. But so was he [in Seattle] for a few years, so it’s not like his abilities are a mystery to anyone there. And he’s showing them that he can put it on the field for them, so they’re probably more comfortable than anyone else.”
On that point, an agent who negotiated senior quarterback contracts added, “His value is at its highest in Seattle. He was there and he is a leader who fits the culture of their job. I honestly don’t know if anyone else would be willing to pay him what Seattle would pay. It’s just worth more in Seattle because there’s evidence it’s already working there.”
That will ultimately be Smith’s catch. With a deep rookie quarterback streak and the recent trend that some veteran quarterbacks are commercially available — not to mention his age — a free-agency run probably wouldn’t be the same bonanza for him that Kirk Cousins did at Year 2018. Although Cousins was 30, he had a longer track record and more than a few wildly desperate teams lining up in the free hand.
It’s hard to say what Smith will ultimately be worth in terms of engagement, but there’s a lot developing for Seattle. The question is how long will the Seahawks see this power spike and how soon will it bring the franchise back into a Super Bowl window. Not to mention what it will do with rebuilding the team, adding another significant quarterback contract almost as quickly as it lost Russell Wilson’s last offseason.
But one thing is clear: the Seahawks can achieve this in any ways necessary. Whether it’s a year-long look with a franchise tag or a multi-year deal cementing Smith behind center by the end of the decade, they’ll have more than $50 million in salary cap space to make it happen realize.
Both approaches will take a bite out of their offseason of maneuvering. But considering how Smith played, it’s better than staring at another quarterback hole and wondering how long it’ll take to fix it.