Last week, an NFL general manager reflected on the free agency and trade period in 2022 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 trade?” he asked.
I took a moment to think about it and ran a finger down a list of AFC and NFC teams. It didn’t take me long to realize that the off-season of the quarterback movement was more of a wasteland than I had imagined a few months ago.
“You know it when you see it,” the GM said. “I think it’s pretty obvious.”
I began to struggle through the carnage. Deshaun Watson has yet to make a snap with the Cleveland Browns and already has the best contract in NFL history. Matt Ryan and Baker Mayfield have each experienced benching with the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers. Mitchell Trubisky was acquired by Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett after only four starts. The Washington Commanders put Carson Wentz on injured reserve with a finger problem and now seem less inclined to give him his starting job back. Marcus Mariota has been a solid bridge for the Atlanta Falcons, and Russell Wilson, well, we don’t even need to get into that mess.
That really left one man. Gene Smith.
“Yes,” the GM replied. “That’s mine. They re-signed him in the off-season to compete as a starter, so he counts.
Geno Smith’s salary range for 2023: $23.8 million vs $38.4 million?
Pound for pound, there is little doubt. Seattle signed Smith to a one-year deal with a base salary of $3.5 million and incentives that could boost his earnings to $7 million. In return, 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 blossomed so unexpectedly at a late stage . stage in his career.
In 10 games, Smith has led the Seahawks to a 6-4 record and first place in the NFC West. And he’s done it with a remarkable 17-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an industry-leading 72.8 percent completion percentage.
He’s also proven an easy match for the fielding opportunities on the roster and runs a schedule that doesn’t constantly rely on dink-and-dunk plays that can make the stats misleading. Indeed, everything about Smith so far resembles the stuff of a seasoned veteran quarterback running an offense that should compete for postseason wins.
With seven games left, he is undeniably one of the best stories in the NFL. And soon Smith’s future will also be one of the most watched contract negotiations. As Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told reporters last week, “[T]here’s a conversation coming up. We understand that.”
At this point, only an implosion could keep the Seahawks and Smith from signing a long-term contract. Aside from that, Seattle has some tough math to do. Consider how Smith’s worth is calculated by the two most savvy contract/salary cap sites on the web, spotrac.com and OverTheCap.com. Watch the gap.
According to a calculation that measures a player’s performance and value against that of his positional peers, OverTheCap estimates that Smith entered the Seahawks bye week performing at a level consistent with a $38.4 million salary in 2022 Essentially, he’s betting like he’s worth the 10th best quarterback salary in the NFL. Now compare that to Spotrac’s market value analysis for 2023, which uses an algorithm that essentially measures three years of performance rather than just 2022. Using a three-year weighted window, Spotrac estimates that the average salary of Smith’s next deal will be close to $23.8 lies. million.
That Spotrac figure is likely to rise as Smith ends 2022 (the third year of the analysis). That’s still an eye-watering split, nearly $15 million, between its calculated value for 2022 and its weighted value over a longer period of time. What’s even more interesting is the number that divides the difference in the middle: $31.1 million.
That middle ground is notable because the franchise tag for the quarterback position in 2023 is expected to be about $31.5 million. That’s exactly where NFL general managers believe Smith’s contract talks will begin in the upcoming offseason. It’s a staggering amount when you consider that Smith’s total NFL earnings over his first 10 years (depending on what incentives he hits this season) is on track to drop between $14 million and $17 million. Basically, if 2022 ends the way it started, Smith’s salary in 2023 will likely be double what he earned in the previous decade… combined.
Smith seems to be a perfect fit for Seattle, taking away any clout
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 [million] up to $35 million a season is about right,” said a general manager. “Although I wouldn’t be surprised if they used the franchise tag on him to do it for another year just to be sure.”
“He plays like a top-10 quarterback,” said another general manager. “Maybe even a little better than that. The risk is that it happens later in his career and it’s just not much track record there. But he was [in Seattle] for a few years, so it’s not like his skills are a mystery to anyone out there. And he shows them he can do it for them on the pitch, so their comfort level is probably better than anybody else’s.”
An agent who has negotiated high-level quarterback contracts added, “His value is highest with Seattle. He’s been there and he’s a leader that fits the culture of what they’re doing. I honestly don’t know if anyone else would pay him what Seattle wants. It’s just worth more in Seattle because there’s evidence it already works there.”
That ends up being the problem for Smith. With a deep rookie quarterback class and the recent trend of some veteran quarterbacks being available in the trade – not to mention his age – a free send-off probably wouldn’t be the same bonanza for him as it was for Kirk Cousins in 2018. Although Cousins was 30, he had a longer track record of success and more than a few wildly desperate teams lining up for free agency.
It’s hard to know what Smith will ultimately be worth in terms of commitment, but for Seattle, it looks like it’s going to be a lot. The question is how long will the Seahawks see this performance spike last and how soon will it put the franchise back into a Super Bowl window. Not to mention what it will do to rebuild the team by adding another key quarterback contract almost as quickly as losing Russell Wilson’s last off-season.
But one thing is clear: the Seahawks can pull this off any way they can. Whether it’s a one-year look with a franchise label or a multi-year deal that puts Smith behind the center late into the decade, they’ll have more than $50 million in salary headroom to make it happen.
Both approaches will take a bite out of their off-season maneuvering. But given how Smith has been playing, that’s better than staring at another quarterback hole and wondering how long it will take to fix it.