Geno Smith looks headed for free agency as 'no franchise tag' rumors hit ESPN
The timeline of the Seahawks-Geno situation and where it stands as the deadline approaches: Seaside Joe 1462, 3/5/2023
As the media kept reporting for weeks that the Seattle Seahawks would at least secure Geno Smith’s rights with the franchise tag at $32.4 million if the two sides couldn’t reach a long-term contract, we’ve remained skeptical at Seaside Joe ever since February 6. That was the day of Seaside Joe 1435, the episode that left us with one very important question that I’ve been repeating ever since:
The Seahawks could easily get from $24 million to $32 million in cap space before Tuesday’s deadline—and they have a little more time than that before they need to be under the cap by NFL rules—but that only raises the submarine to the surface. It doesn’t take John Schneider to the moon.
In other words, Seattle would need to cut ties with several key players, trade 2023 draft picks for 2024 draft picks, push guaranteed money committed to players like Jamal Adams into the future (not advisable), and sell his house in Medina in order to afford Geno on the franchise tag. It just didn’t make any sense if you cared to crunch the Seahawks’ numbers.
You’re essentially squishing the 12s into the 1.2s.
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Worse yet, writers, podcasters, radio hosts, and TV analysts have been pushing the dream world scenario of not only paying Geno a $32 million salary, but having the luxury to pay a rookie top-10 pick a $6 million salary on top of it. Now with one day left at the NFL Scouting Combine, about five days after Pete Carroll and Schneider said without saying that they can’t afford a QB franchise tag, rumors from ESPN would confirm what Seaside Joe’s been saying for most of the time:
The Seahawks will not franchise tag Geno Smith.
That’s according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, noting over the weekend that it would be a “surprise” for Seattle to use the tag.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler adds the expectation is the Seahawks will slow-play the situation and be patient to see what other QB deals get done. A three-year deal that rewards Smith for his breakout while helping Seattle manage their cap could make sense for both sides.
In the end, both Graziano and Fowler think the best fit for both Smith and the Seahawks is with each other and that both sides will be motivated to get something done.
Okay, but did Graziano and Fowler show how this contract will be structured in such a way that appeals to Geno even if it somehow has an out for the team after only one year, if the team is meant to also be drafting his replacement? You know, there are a few QB-needy teams that not only have more space, but who won’t be drafting a quarterback to take his job.
Has anyone else considered that?
The history of the “Seaside Joe-What to do with Geno Smith’s contract timeline?” goes back to October 24, 2022. I want to share the Seaside Joe timeline not to flaunt “What I got right” (you’ll see that I’m actually not right all the time) but because here we are honest and consistent. Like many of you, I am outraged and disappointed in the media for their lies, their selfishness, and their addiction to attention. I want Seaside Joe to be set apart from “the media” by calling it out and by always being upfront and honest, even when it means admitting I was wrong. All of us are going to be wrong at times, but we should never do the wrong thing.
I think we’ve covered the Geno Smith contract situation honestly the entire time and because of that, there is consistency and accuracy that goes back to October.
It was over four months ago that we could see this train headed full speed towards a damsel in distress on the tracks, which is why I made the pitch that maybe Seattle should try and take advantage of Smith’s uncertain future while he was still in the midst of his breakout season.
I believe there are still hurdles for Smith to climb over before calling his story a finished book. But no other player in the league has been this great of a bargain and Pete Carroll makes it sound like Geno Smith is the quarterback who the Seahawks plan to have beyond this season.
“There’s no restrictions on Geno,” said Carroll in the postgame press conference, referring to Smith’s understanding of the offense and physical abilities being an advantage that makes him a complete starting quarterback. “He can do whatever we think of.”
There’s nothing I can see happening this season that would make me think it unreasonable for the Seahawks to draft a quarterback with their first pick next year, if that’s what they end up choosing to do.
Smith presents the least amount of effort towards getting a player prepared to start for the Seahawks next season, with Drew Lock serving as the closest second option. Seattle could keep both and still draft a quarterback.
When should the Seahawks take care of Geno Smith? There could be a way to get peace of mind at the quarterback position for next season, to reward Smith for out-playing his contract, and to still have an out in case something goes wrong between now and next year or the year after that.
Coming off of his win against the Chargers in Week 7 (73.5% completions, 11 TD, 3 INT, 107.7 rating to date), both Smith and Seattle could feel confident that there was at least some proof that the two sides could work together. But if he kept trending up, held the job for the entire season, Smith’s value could go beyond the Seahawks’ affordability at the position.
On the contrary, if he struggled or got benched, Smith would have fallen back into the realm of the backups in the following free agency. This is the doubt that I would have tried to use in midseason contract negotiations with Geno Smith that might have cleared up our current state of uncertainty in negotiations between the two sides: Would Geno accept a two-year contract extension with a signing bonus that gets him money now, while giving the Seahawks an option on the fifth day of the 2023 league year?
Smith gets a $10 million signing bonus (admittedly, I don’t know if Seattle had the ability to do this with regards to their 2022 cap situation) and the Seahawks have the option to walk away in a year if he flounders, while still keeping him at a low-ish number if he is good enough. That’s essentially where we stand today: You shouldn’t be blown away by Geno’s season relative to the top-five quarterbacks, but he was good enough for now.
Pete has emphasized recently that Geno’s confidence and belief in himself for the last eight years is what gave him the ability to become the 2022 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, so perhaps he and his agent wouldn’t have accepted a midseason contract that gave the Seahawks a discount if he succeeded. But that’s when Seaside Joe started to sense that this current trajectory towards a franchise tag stalemate was inevitable.
It was that same week that I gave Geno the “Best QB Move of the Year” award, one of the top prizes given out each year. Much better than CPOY. In early November, we saw that Seattle’s QB plans had to shift with the new information on Geno and the first round pick coming their way via Denver. I admitted that Geno exposed huge flaws in Seaside Joe’s analysis…on Geno Smith. And that Geno made football fun again in Seattle.
A too-early look ahead to 2023 free agency last November has proven to be too early to look ahead: I said the Seahawks had to set aside $30 million for Geno Smith. Another oversight by Joe, attempting to work the salary cap two months before the season had ended. I then pondered whether the “rookie contract QB” theory was still holding up, another too-early analysis given the Eagles’ season, but now more relevant to Seattle fans.
But in late November, we found perhaps the first sign of trouble: What if Geno’s agent values him like a mid-career Matt Ryan? The comparison had some validity to it—age, abilities, team needs—and it means that quarterbacks don’t always have to prove they’re elite in order to get top-of-the-market contracts. And it doesn’t matter if you believe that Geno is as good as Matt Ryan; it only matters if Geno believes he’s as good as Matt Ryan.
It was only a day after that article that the concept first hit me: If the Seahawks are going to commit to Geno after 2022, then they have to mean it. They have to let go of the idea of drafting a quarterback with the Broncos’ pick. In a previous post, I called back to this infomercial that said “Free? It’s gotta be good!” and in this post, I thought back to the concept of a “FREE LUNCH!”
Everybody wants the best of both worlds—who wouldn’t???—but is that realistic?
Because Geno is a 2023 free agent, he can’t be compared to Alex Smith’s situation on the Chiefs in 2017 when the team drafted Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City was in a position to pay both quarterbacks, they didn’t have to start over with Alex’s contract that same year; Seattle’s only leverage in these negotiations has been the franchise tag, but it’s unaffordable and Geno’s agent knows that.
So Seaside Joe has been on this track for three months already.
As Geno kept owning his moment in the spotlight, I was pushed into making my final call on what to do about Geno’s contract situation on December 16: The Seahawks should give Geno the non-exclusive franchise tag, but only with the hope that another team is desperate and willing to make a trade. Maybe that was a little too unrealistic.
Seattle won two of their last three games in order to backdoor their way into the playoffs as a 9-8 wild card, but the Seahawks offense even worse than their defense, Geno’s accuracy took a tumble, he had five turnovers, and while the team was just good enough to beat Mike White and Baker Mayfield…the Seahawks weren’t close to competitive against the Chiefs or 49ers.
His value just isn’t nearly as high as it could have been when I made my “final call” on Geno Smith, but the point still stands that there was too much uncertainty to be certain. The Seahawks would have to try and cash in or to walk away, see if he eventually does come back on a reasonable deal.
I don’t think much has changed in the last three months.
The “franchise tag rumors” begin
On the morning of their wild card loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Ian Rapoport (who John Gilbert has smartly linked to Geno’s agent in terms of leaking positive reports for his clients) reported that the Seahawks would do whatever it takes to keep Geno Smith after the season.
“They’re going to try and work on a new deal. There is also the franchise tag available, expect them to use that if it is necessary.”
So blame Rapoport for saying that the Seahawks would use the franchise tag—even though if Seattle doesn’t use the tag, Rap Sheet will suffer no consequences or be accused of colluding with agents because that simply never happens.
A couple of days after the wild card loss, Pete said everything I would have expected him to say—”Geno’s a winner” etc—but I wasn’t quite buying that the Seahawks could afford or would pay Geno because that doesn’t track with Pete’s history. Instead, I thought maybe the team would overpay Drew Lock.
In a January 18 poll, only 12% of Seasiders thought the Seahawks should give Geno the franchise tag. Good on ya. On January 20, I lost power at home but still managed to write a Geno contract proposal “that actually makes sense” because it was laden with incentives and options, rather than guarantees, similar to the deal that Derek Carr signed in 2022. It still makes the most sense.
January 26: NFL needs to create a new salary tier for QBs like Smith and Daniel Jones, two of the hardest evaluations of recent memory. The Giants are reportedly far apart in negotiations with Jones, but making it clear that they will use the franchise tag by Tuesday. It is notable that not once have Pete and John been as upfront about using the tag as New York’s GM Joe Schoen. And really that’s what continues to matter: These QBs want the same value as Matthew Stafford and Dak Prescott, but the Giants, Seahawks don’t want to fall into those same traps. A new tier is necessary but we won’t get there until some stalemates are settled.
January 27: I note how Pete and John used the same language with Frank Clark in 2019 that they’re using to talk about Geno. We know how that ended.
January 31: I write about the entire QB market—free agents, trade rumors, teams that will use the draft—and find that maybe Geno’s services aren’t quite as hotly desired as others have been saying. I’m looking for any direct connection between a franchise and Geno and find that maybe he actually will return to Seattle on a reasonable contract—but only after being allowed to test the market. Later that same day, the Ravens interview Dave Canales and suddenly there’s a potential connection.
February 4: Seahawks, Geno must treat negotiations like business and ignore the media, fan hype. I suggest that the option/incentives contract is still the most desirable outcome, the tag was on the table, and that Seattle would have to let Geno go well before giving him the guaranteed deal.
February 6: We try to actually make Geno’s tag fit under the salary cap and we can’t do it. At this point, all thoughts of Geno signing the tag should be over. Others keep saying it’s going to happen, without explaining how. I give some trade options to try and save cap space, just in case. I’m trying at least!
February 13: I write out contract proposals for one, two, three, and four years. Ultimately, Geno could still sign one of these deals with Seattle or with another team.
Valentine’s Day: Geno tweets that he could be a successful offensive coordinator, at any level, right now. A hint, to me, that Geno doesn’t see himself as a “discount quarterback”.
February 15: The Bucs hire Canales, creating a link in Tampa Bay but also opening up the door for Seattle to get a new QBs coach—perhaps one with a history of developing young quarterbacks.
February 20: Greg Olson is one such QB coach. This same day, I become maybe the first Seahawks writer in history to actually do research into Geno’s agent—Chafie Fields—which leads me to believe that he’s not taking any discount either. Not even close. Because we’ve known for two weeks at this point that the tag wasn’t a realistic option, I don’t see Geno accepting a contract prior to the tampering period and he could leave.
February 22: If Seattle is going to re-sign Phil Haynes, Nick Bellore, could they really be budgeted for a franchise tag?
February 28: Pete is dropping hints that the QB tag is too expensive for the Seahawks to do what they want to do in free agency. Is anyone else in the media trying to listen for that?
March 4: I sent out a 4-year anniversary Seaside Joe marking 1,461 consecutive days. Unrelated to Geno, just a reminder!
So here we stand on March 5 and it appears that yes, as we’ve been educatedly speculating for months, Geno Smith’s free agency tour is one step closer to becoming a reality. This doesn’t mean Geno is completely gone, I believe the two sides do want to make a deal, but there’s no real way for that to make sense if the Seahawks want to draft a QB—unless Geno takes a really disappointing deal for Geno. That’s possible. It’s believable.
That’s what we’re focused on here more than anything: Realistic and believable. Not free lunch. Someone’s always paying for lunch. How much is it? That’s something that will reveal itself soon, but it’s not $32.4 million.