No one expected much out of Geno Smith this year, but the Seattle Seahawks quarterback is playing the best football of his career and has his team in playoff contention with four weeks remaining in the regular season. Given Smith’s remarkable career turnaround, how will the Seahawks approach his pending 2023 free agency?
Geno Smith Deserves a New Contract From the Seahawks in 2023
Every NFL team had the opportunity to sign Smith this offseason. Once his contract with the Seahawks expired, Smith sat on the open market for more than a month before agreeing to a new one-year, $3.5 million deal with Seattle.
Even then, Smith wasn’t in the driver’s seat to become the Seahawks’ starting quarterback. He hadn’t been a regular starter since 2014, and even then, he wasn’t very effective. Meanwhile, Seattle appeared more likely to start Bronco Drew Lock — acquired in the Russell Wilson trade — than to turn things over to the 32-year-old Smith.
And yet, 14 weeks into the season, Smith has been one of the most productive signal-callers in the NFL. With 3,433 yards, 25 touchdowns, and eight interceptions, he’s shattered all of his previous career-best marks. League-wide, Smith ranks fifth in QBR, sixth in adjusted net yards per attempt, and eighth in expected points added per dropback. He’s a legitimate second-tier MVP candidate.
Smith, who’s earned just shy of $14 million in 10 NFL campaigns, has undoubtedly made himself a lot of money. But it’s unclear if his next contract will be with Seattle or another franchise.
That’s because the Seahawks have a clear path to acquiring a first-round rookie quarterback. The Wilson trade is the deal that keeps on giving. Seattle owns Denver’s first- and second-round picks in 2023, and the Broncos’ first-rounder currently sits as the No. 2 overall pick in next year’s draft.
Even if the Texans select Alabama’s Bryce Young at No. 1, the Seahawks would have their pick of quarterbacks at No. 2. Seattle could use Denver’s choice on Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis, or Florida’s Anthony Richardson before spending their own pick — which should fall in the teens or twenties — on a defender or offensive lineman.
Smith has been sensational this season, but he’ll hit the open market as a mid-thirties quarterback with one above-average campaign under his belt. As such, it’s fair to wonder how much interest he can garner from other teams.
Smith’s Market Value
The last time a journeyman quarterback posted a season as productive as Smith’s and became a free agent was in 2015 when Ryan Fitzpatrick ranked ninth in EPA per play for the Jets before his contract expired.
Despite his success, no teams bought into Fitzpatrick. The Broncos reportedly reached out to Fitzpatrick’s representatives but decided his asking price was too high. No other clubs expressed interest, and Fitzpatrick ultimately had to wait until July to re-sign with Gang Green on a one-year, $12 million pact.
While several teams will be searching for a quarterback this offseason, many of those clubs will have the option of targeting passers in the draft. Additionally, the 2023 free agent quarterback class is the best crop in years. Even assuming the Ravens franchise Lamar Jackson, options like Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Daniel Jones offer real competition for Smith.
Given these constraints, the Seahawks could wait out Smith just as the Jets did with Fitzpatrick. Yet, that doesn’t strike me as a realistic course of action for Pete Carroll and Co. Smith fully bought into Carroll’s philosophy by beating out Lock for Seattle’s starting job, and it shouldn’t be surprising if he’s rewarded for his efforts.
There’s also the question of how a quarterback’s contract affects his standing in the locker room. Although Nick Foles reportedly had no suitors beyond the Jaguars when he reached free agency in 2019, Jacksonville still gave him a four-year, $88 million deal with $50 million in guarantees. Reports later indicated the Jags felt they had to give Foles a significant contract in order to establish him as a team leader.
The Transition Tag Makes Sense for Smith and the Seahawks
As the Seahawks attempt to weigh Smith’s breakout season against his career track record — and balance the benefits of re-signing a veteran quarterback versus having a passer on a rookie contract — they may conclude that the transition tag is the best option for all parties involved.
While the franchise tag is based on the top five salaries at a position, the transition tag is determined by averaging the top 10. Over the Cap projects the quarterback franchise tender at $29.703 million and the transition tender at $27.186 million, so the Seahawks would save roughly $2.5 million by deploying the latter.
Unlike the franchise tag, the transition tag wouldn’t allow Seattle to acquire draft pick compensation if Smith signed with a new team. Instead, the Seahawks would only have the right to match another club’s offer to Smith.
Still, if we’re correct in guessing that Smith’s 2023 market won’t be all that robust, Seattle wouldn’t be risking much by choosing the transition tag over the franchise tender.
Meanwhile, retaining Smith on the transition tag wouldn’t preclude the Seahawks from drafting their future franchise quarterback, even as high as No. 2 overall. With Smith only locked in for a single season, Seattle could use 2023 as a developmental campaign for its rookie signal-caller before turning things over in 2024.
The Seahawks will be staring at a few different quarterback paths next spring. They could extend Smtih on a significant contract and use both of their first-round picks to augment other positions on their roster. Or they could eschew Smtih altogether and roll with whichever passer they land in April.
But the best solution seems to include a middle ground. Using the transition tag on Smith would secure above-average quarterback play in 2023 and allow the Seahawks to compete for the playoffs again while also enabling them to plan for the future by opening the possibility of a first-round QB.
NFL teams don’t often get to have their cake and eat it, too, but the Seahawks might be able to do just that next year.