When you’ve lived your life for many years under a particular assumption, it can be difficult to then accept a new reality. Pretty much since Geno Smith was drafted and started playing as a rookie in 2013, my opinion of him has been highly negative. It’s easy to write off a “bad quarterback”. It’s much harder for that opinion to flip the other way. Great quarterbacks seem like they start out great, so if you’re not immediately lighting the world on fire within the first six or so weeks, then you’re automatically relegated to Bust status.
Almost always, when a quarterback is labeled a Bust, he stays a bust forever. There are occasional guys who take a little longer to break through. Some guys just need time to develop (Josh Allen had a rocky first year before settling in). Some guys need stability within the coaching staff to grow (Tua being a prime example). Some guys need a change of scenery (Ryan Tannehill being a notable one). However, Geno Smith seemingly needed all of these things before it finally clicked.
What befuddles me about Geno Smith is the fact that he was extremely mediocre-to-bad with the Jets. He continued along that path as a backup with the Giants and Chargers. And even though he’s been with the Seahawks since 2019, I haven’t noticed a single change in his level of play before this year. Whenever he’s gotten into pre-season games, he’s been the same ol’ Geno Smith. When he started three games last year – in Shane Waldron’s system – he looked just as mediocre-to-bad as ever (his one great game was against the Jags, the consensus worst team in football at the time). Even this past pre-season – when he regularly got starter’s snaps in practice – he looked like a liability. He looked like someone the team couldn’t wait to cut, if only Drew Lock showed one iota of competence. I still contend that if Lock hadn’t gotten COVID and missed that second pre-season game, he would’ve been our starter heading into the regular season.
And even though Geno came out on fire in the first half of that Broncos game in week one, there were a number of growing pains early in the regular season (especially in a 20-point loss to the 49ers. But, starting with that shootout against the Lions, Geno’s not just been adequate, he’s been legitimately great! He’s been so great, people are clamoring for the Seahawks to extend him NOW. During the season, not later, when he hits the free agent market. And, these aren’t just reactionary fans, but smart football prognosticators. It’s something I never would’ve imagined in a million years.
So, I’m here to work this out in my mind. Should the Seahawks extend Geno Smith? How big of a deal should they sign him to? Should they also bother drafting a quarterback early next year?
There’s a lot of variables we just don’t know the answers to. For starters, we still don’t REALLY know how legitimate this improvement is. I understand the logic of signing Geno to an extension now: you hope to gain some semblance of a discount by not having to compete on the open market. But, you’re talking about a guy who’s not afraid to bet on himself. You’re talking about a guy who has signed repeated 1-year deals to stay here. You’re also talking about his first period of sustained success; he’s going to want to cash in on this opportunity. He’s 32 years old, this is probably his one and only opportunity to gain generational wealth on a big-time deal.
Since he is 32 years old, and he has such a history of mediocrity, I don’t think there’s any way he’s getting some sort of top-of-market contract. He’s not going to get $50 million per year, or anywhere close to it. Nor is he going to sign for anything more than 4-5 years (with probably only 1-2 of them guaranteed). I would also argue he’s very much a product of this particular system. Unless the Rams are going to cut Stafford and make a play for Geno, I don’t see him having nearly the same success with just any quarterback-needy team. On top of which, the Seahawks’ offensive line has been tremendous. Put him on a team with a Swiss cheese line and you’ll see him struggle just like most everyone else.
So, I don’t really believe Geno has the leverage you’d expect. That doesn’t mean he won’t have earned himself a nice little raise. But, I do think we can afford to let this season play out and THEN try to re-sign him. Also, not for nothing, but I don’t know if we even could afford to extend him now, with how much our salary cap is tied up in dead money.
In short, I’m in favor of waiting to extend him. But, I do believe – if he continues to play at this high level – that he does deserve an extension. I think this level of play would be a bargain at $20-$25 million per year, with 2023 and maybe a portion of 2024 guaranteed. I’d be reluctant to go over $25 million, though. There’s a point where he’s going to turn back into a pumpkin, and it’s probably sooner than we’d like.
As such, I would also look to draft a quarterback in the first round next year.
This is where I’m torn, though. One of the big perks of moving on from a high-priced quarterback is the grace period you have with a new guy on a rookie deal. You get to enjoy all the savings – while hopefully the rookie pans out and turns into a stud early on in his development – so you can build around him and hopefully make the Super Bowl before that guy is going to cost you an arm and a leg.
But, if we jump right from Russell Wilson making what he made (and costing us dearly in dead money) to Geno Smith making upwards of $25 million, you’re not really getting that competitive financial advantage. If we draft a rookie in the first round next year, he’ll almost certainly sit behind Geno the whole season (maybe even the first two). Then, if you move on from Geno to the guy on the third year of his rookie deal, you’re dealing with a season of him gaining experience, before he hopefully figures it out in year four. At which point, if he does figure it out, he’s going to command a huge contract, and you’ve essentially wasted his entire period of affordability, while needing to make difficult decisions elsewhere on the roster to keep him around.
The flipside to that argument is, of course, the fact that rookies aren’t guaranteed to be great, even when you draft them high in the first round. If the idea is to win football games, and Geno Smith is playing at a level that can win you a lot of football games, it’s probably more prudent to keep him around, while letting the young guy learn and develop at a slower pace. But, if the young guy is special, it would be a shame to have to sit him for longer than absolutely necessary. Aaron Rodgers hardly played at all his first three years; that seems crazy in today’s game.
Another variable to consider is: what happens if the Seahawks don’t have a Top 10 draft pick? What happens if we make the playoffs (which puts us drafting into the 20’s) and the Broncos improve to the point where maybe they approach .500 (or, God forbid, if they also make it as a wild card team in a weaker-than-expected AFC; they do still have time to turn things around)? Is there a quarterback we’d feel comfortable trading up for in the first round? Or, would we use our first rounders on other players and maybe focus on the 2nd or 3rd round for a rookie QB?
There’s a nightmare scenario where the Seahawks have two draft picks in the 20’s, where all of the elite-level quarterbacks and pass rushers have gone off the board. We’re already set at offensive tackle, we’ve got a couple great receivers (and are never really looking to draft receiver that highly), we’ve got solid cornerbacks (and, again, don’t usually look to this spot in the draft to take that position). So, there’s a real chance that we have to settle for a lower-tier pass rusher, or we have to reach for a linebacker or a lesser quarterback prospect. That’s not what I want to see, even if we’re able to extend Geno Smith on a team-friendly deal.
Lost in all of this might be the most important question of all: can the Seahawks win a championship with Geno Smith in the next 2-3 years? Before this year, I would’ve said unequivocally, 1,000% no. But now? There’s a slight glimmer of hope. I would still contend the Seahawks haven’t played anyone super great, and won’t until we go to play Kansas City late in the year. As far as the best teams in the NFC are concerned – Philly, Dallas, Minnesota – we wouldn’t see them until maybe the playoffs. And if we bank on the 49ers, Rams, and Bucs having at least good-to-great defenses, I’d like to see how Geno fares against them before making any real proclamation on his ability to take us all the way.
If he can keep it up, and show out against those teams, then I’d have to grudgingly say yes, we could win a championship with Geno. But, I’m really going to need to see it with my own eyes before I’ll fully believe.