If Geno Smith is Matt Ryan: A Seahawks contract analysis
What would that mean for the Seahawks? Seaside Joe 1359
Do you have any phrases that you’ve been repeating back and forth to an old college roommate for multiple decades? One such phrase that I’ve likely said over 1,000 times already to only one other person in the world: “Free? Then it’s gotta be good!”
Why is it that people can never correctly remember the catch phrases that we endlessly repeat? Like “Mirror, mirror on the wall” or “Luke, I am your father” or “Hello, Clarice,” it turns out we’ve been getting “It’s gotta be good!” wrong all for these years too…
It also turns out that me and my college roommate weren’t the only ones obsessed with “Dumbest line in the history of TV?” as this :03 second YouTube clip from an informercial for a brain supplment multivitamin called Focus Factor (it’s available and no, it’s not free) put it in the title.
“They let you try it free? It must be good!”
Trying to understand the logic in that message from has haunted me for almost 20 years. Maybe finally Geno Smith and the Seattle Seahawks are the key to unlocking the answers from Focus Factor’s riddle.
Seaside Joe is FREE? It must be good! It is—but if you upgrade to premium it is even better, THANK YOU!
Geno’s $3.5 million salary for 2022 makes him one of the cheapest quarterbacks in the NFL who isn’t on a rookie contract, and he even makes much less than most first round picks in the last few years. And yet, Geno has been a top-five passer by practically any measure.
I was curious what other seasons Geno’s current season was like and one name/year popped out at me: 2018 Matt Ryan.
At his current pace, 32-year-old Geno Smith could finish with 72% completions, 29 TDs, seven INTs, 4,206 yards, 7.8 Y/A, 8.3 adjusted Y/A, and a passer rating of 108.
Four years ago, 33-year-old Matt Ryan completed 69% of his passes, 35 TDs, seven INTs, 4,924 yards, 8.1 Y/A, 8.7 aY/A, and a 108.1 rating.
By NFL standards, Geno Smith has been practically free and I have to say: “He must be good!”
But if the NFL puts him in a box of being a middle-aged Matt Ryan, that won’t be free anymore when Geno approaches 2023 free agency. When or if he gets paid like Ryan at the same stage of his career, will that be good?
Or do we need to question the logic?
Will Ryan’s best be Geno’s best?
It is a little hard to believe that Matt Ryan’s 2016 season took the league by storm, given what has transpired since Patrick Mahomes became a starter in 2018 and took the league by category-50 hurricane.
Matt Ryan’s MVP season: 373/534, 69.9%, 38 TD, 7 INT, 9.3 Y/A, 117.1 passer rating, 79.6 QBR, 8.25 net yards/attempt (take Y/A but subtract yards lost on sacks), 9.03 adjusted net yards/attempt (take net Y/A but then also factor in TD:INT ratio)
Dan Quinn’s 2016 Falcons scored 33.8 points per game, including five games with over 40 points and three games with over 500 yards. In the playoffs, the Falcons were just as prolific, scoring 80 points and gaining over 900 yards in the divisional/NFC Championship rounds against the Seahawks and Packers.
Players had obviously thrown for more than 38 touchdowns before, but that type of efficiency with a passing offense at that volume, it seemed like the pinnacle of quarterbacking at the time. Ryan won MVP, the Falcons reached the Super Bowl, and Kyle Shanahan was “secretly” hired to be the head coach of the 49ers even before Atlanta blew a 28-3 lead.
Then two years later, we met the real Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes first season as starter: 383/580, 66%, 50 TD, 12 INT, 8.8 Y/A, 113.8 passer rating, 80.3 QBR, 8.13 net yards/attempt, 8.89 adjusted NY/A. Kansas City averaged 35.3 points per game.
In his first four years with the Chiefs, Mahomes averaged 41 touchdowns per season with a 106.2 passer rating. It took Ryan nine years to win MVP, although he had it in him the whole time. That season had to be unlocked by Shanahan and a benficial set of circumstances around him (Julio Jones), but Ryan has always been considered a very good quarterback.
Players like Mahomes come around once every 10 or 20 years. Now in his fifth season as the Chiefs starter, Mahomes is on pace for 5,550 yards, 48 touchdowns and he has a passer rating of 107.3. Ryan threw the ball 534 times in 2016 and that felt like a lot. Mahomes is on pace to throw 680 times over 17 games this season, but with no less than comparable efficiency to Ryan.
He has Travis Kelce, who is on pace for 117 catches and 19 touchdowns, but is otherwise working with a below-average set of wide receivers and a far less talented or prolific backfield than Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Ryan’s two running backs in 2016.
Why compare Matt Ryan and Patrick Mahomes? We all know who the superior quarterback is between the two and we’re also aware of how impossible it is to plan to find the next Mahomes. A smart franchise would never plan to draft a Hall of Fame quarterback as their source of success for the next 20 years.
But a smart franchise also wouldn’t prevent themselves from having the opportunity.
Alex Smith went 11-4, 8-7, 11-5, 11-4, and 9-6 as Kansas City’s starter from 2013 to 2017. Most franchises would call that satisfactory, but Andy Reid didn’t build his impeccable coaching resume by settling for satisfied, so the Chiefs traded two first round picks for the rights to Mahomes.
Matt Ryan went 11-5, 9-5, 13-3, 10-6, and 13-3 as a starter in his first five years in the NFL. He also went 11-5, 10-6, 7-9, 7-8, and 4-12 between 2016 and 2020. Finally, after the Falcons went 7-10 last season, Atlanta terminated all aspirations for winning a Super Bowl with Ryan and turned the team back over to chance.
Maybe Falcons rookie Desmond Ridder will turn out to be good. Maybe Atlanta will fall backwards or forwards into a franchise quarterback next year. But more likely than not, just playing the odds, the Falcons will have a carousel of options that changes every couple of years and just trying to find the next Matt Ryan will seem impossible at times.
What do you do with mid-stage Matt Ryan?
What the Falcons did with a 33-year-old Ryan in 2018 was sign him to a five-year, $150 million contract extension, including $94 million in guarantees. At the time, the deal was massive, but today that contract places Ryan 13th in average annual salary. Well below the $50 million salary of Aaron Rodgers, and only one-third total value of the $450 million contract signed by Mahomes in 2020. Only two years after Ryan.
This year’s big contracts included Rodgers’ three-year, $150 million extension, Russell Wilson’s five-year, $245 million deal with the Broncos, Kyler Murray’s five-year, $230.5 million contract with the Cardinals, and Deshaun Watson’s fully-guaranteed $230 million contract with the Browns.
It’s worth noting that there’s another level of quarterback contract below those deals: Derek Carr, Matt Stafford, and Dak Prescott are on recently-signed contracts paying them $40 million per year.
But also, the Falcons didn’t sign Ryan to a mid-level contract. They signed him to a top-of-the-market contract in 2018, one season removed from his MVP campaign (just a moderately successful year, somewhere between 2016 and 2018) and ahead of the 2018 season that I’m using as a Geno comparison.
The logic would then hold that if Geno is perceived as being as good as Ryan at the same age, that teams will have to negotiate with him and his agent like he’s worth a top-of-the-market contract. On one hand, Geno isn’t 18 months removed from winning MVP like Ryan, and he doesn’t have a 10-year track record behind him like Ryan did when he signed that deal.
On the other hand, Geno can—and should—argue that he’s playing better in 2022 than Ryan did in 2017, at the same age, before Ryan became the FIRST PLAYER IN NFL HISTORY to get $30 million per season. That topped the previous record of $28 million per season, signed only two months earlier by Kirk Cousins.
So Geno’s next contract doesn’t have to compete with Mahomes and Russ and Josh Allen. Geno’s next contract only has to prove that he’s as good as Ryan and Cousins.
That’s potentially a very expensive hurdle to clear. And now would also be a good time for the comparisons between Geno and Ryan to stop.
The Falcons haven’t posted a winning season since they re-signed Ryan. Despite his great numbers in 2018, Atlanta finished 7-9, even surrounding him with Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu. The defense ranked 30th in points per drive allowed. In 2019, the Falcons went 7-9 and the defense ranked 27th in points per drive allowed. In 2020, the Falcons went 4-12 because even as the defense improved and many of the same names remained on offense, Atlanta couldn’t run the ball or stop the pass.
They started 0-5, fired Quinn, and didn’t bring back Raheem Morris after the Falcons also lost their last five games.
The team gave it one shot with Arthur Smith and Ryan, but the quarterback is such a poor fit for his offense that Atlanta went 7-10 and were hard to watch on either side of the ball. The Falcons were fortunate to receive a third round pick from the Colts in exchange for a 37-year-old quarterback, but they are also saddled with $40.5 million in dead money for 2022 because of his previous contract. Almost $15 million more than what Seattle has to eat because of Wilson.
Should the Falcons have given Ryan that five-year, $150 million record-breaking contract in 2018? I think we have to at least be open to the argument that quarterbacks of his caliber are not worth it. The situation fittingly reminds me of Joe Flacco, one of the other 2008 NFL Draft quarterbacks, and the record-breaking contract he received from the Ravens in 2013.
Flacco, like Ryan, posted a winning record in all five of his first five campaigns, capped off by a Super Bowl victory at the conclusion of 2012. Flacco bet on himself, won, and signed six-year, $120 million contract, another record at the time. Over the next five years, Baltimore went 8-8, 10-6, 5-11, 8-8, and 9-7.
John Harbaugh had a 9-4 playoff record in the first five seasons of Flacco. Harbaugh has a 2-4 playoff record in the last nine years.
Like squawkwork, the Ravens are facing another deliberation at quarterback and another betting-on-himself situation with Lamar Jackson. If you, a Seahawks fan, thinks that the Ravens should hesitate before giving Jackson the same contract that Watson and Murray got. Then you, a Seahawks fan, should hesitate with Geno Smith.
We all know that if something is free, then it doesn’t necessarily gotta be good.
But if something wants to be extraordinarily expensive, then it can’t just be good. It has to be extraordinarily great.