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Geno Smith-Good? What Seahawks would do next year if that's the case
Seaside Joe 1309: How to approach Geno's contract situation and the quarterback position if all goes well
So I’m going to make a comparison for Geno Smith that some readers will say is a compliment and others will say should have me thrown in the slammer, forever banished from polite Seahawks society for the crime of unconscionable disrespect, and transported there via a strongly worded e-mail.
Back in 2017, the Minnesota Vikings were going into year two of Sam Bradford and under the impression that they were just one competent quarterback away from competing. In Week 1, Bradford led the Vikings to a 29-19 win over the Saints by throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns. But despite no apparent injury in that game, Bradford missed the next three contests because of “wear and tear” on the surgically repaired ACL in his left knee, which had torn twice in less than a year.
Minnesota had to turn to backup Case Keenum, a 29-year-old veteran with 24 career starts, including 14 with the Rams in the previous two seasons—in a way, another example of him replacing Bradford. In his first start, the Vikings lost 26-9 to the Steelers. From the ESPN recap, Keenum’s presence was so surprising that some Pittsburgh players didn’t realize it wasn’t Bradford at first:
Case Keenum struggled to get anything going in Bradford's absence, throwing for just 167 yards on 20 of 35 passing. Vikings rookie Dalvin Cook ran for 64 yards, but Minnesota failed to generate any sustained momentum.
Some of the Steelers didn't even realize it was Keenum behind center until the game was underway. It didn't occur to linebacker Bud Dupree until he found himself chasing after Keenum on Minnesota's second possession.
Said VikingsWire—”Nobody really thought Case Keenum would be the answer.”
But he was the answer in Week 3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With a full week of preparation and facing one of the worst teams in the league (a Jameis Winston-led team, I might add), Keenum dispelled the notion that you had to be a former number one pick in order to excel in the Vikings offense; statistically, the former UDFA was slightly better than Bradford in Week 1.
25/33, 369 yards, 3 TD, 142.1 rating in a 34-17 win over a Bucs defense that had also been hit hard by injuries. Surrounded by the likes of Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook, and Adam Thielen, Keenum proved just as capable of hitting his marks in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s offense.
Well protected by a vastly improved offensive line, Keenum was not sacked and only occasionally hurried. He put on a play-action passing clinic, finding Diggs and fellow wide receiver Adam Thielen, who had five catches and 98 yards, open at will.
"I think I was on the ground maybe once," Keenum said.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said Keenum “looked like the best player in the NFL again today,” which is part of the reason Koetter should never be a head coach.
But like any good rollercoaster or appetizer platter, there were multiple dips.
The following week, Keenum went 16/30 for 219 yards and no touchdowns in a 14-7 loss to the Detroit Lions. Said Lions blog Pride of Detroit before the game: “I don’t believe in Case Keenum, I really don’t. I watched his performance against the Buccaneers, and kept waiting to be impressed considering his outstanding box score output. I came away seeing a pretty average game from Keenum who wasn’t all that accurate on a day he completed over 75 percent of his throws.”
The Vikings drive chart against the Lions in Week 4: Punt, Punt, Punt, Touchdown, Fumble, Fumble, Punt, Missed FG, Punt, Downs, Fumble.
Wouldn’t you know it, Sam Bradford was “ready to return” in Week 5.
In an all-important divisional game against the Chicago Bears, a game that saw the NFL debut of Mitchell Trubisky as well, Bradford was 5-of-11 and sacked four times. That would prove to be the end of his career with Minnesota and basically the rest of the NFL. Keenum entered a game that had a 3-2 score and led the Vikings on back-to-back touchdown drives, finishing 17/21 for 140 yards in a 20-17 win.
There would be no QB controversy from there on out. Bradford went to IR. Keenum went on to win 10 of his next 11 starts.
In that span of time, Case Keenum ranked seventh in the NFL in passer rating (98.5), second in completion percentage (68.6), ninth in touchdowns (18), 14th in Y/A (7.4, which was tied with Russell Wilson, among others), and he showed decent mobility and ability as a runner too.
At one point, Keenum was sacked only one time over a six-game span. He had one fumble all year long. He had an interception rate under 2%, which is good. Keenum was the ultimate game manager and he was the only former undrafted free agent quarterback in the league who was playing on Sundays.
The Vikings went 13-3 and narrowly lost a “common games tiebreaker” to the Eagles for the number one seed, but still earned a first round bye. Their first playoff game would come against New Orleans, the same team that Sam Bradford had decimated in Week 1, his only real appearance of the season. Interestingly, Bradford was considered healthy enough to return to the team for the postseason but head coach Mike Zimmer declared that Keenum had earned the starting role.
Somewhat reminiscent of the scenario surrounding Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe in 2001, minus the future with seven Super Bowl rings.
It’s probably also at this point that you remember that Case Keenum once started for the best team in the NFL and had “that play” to Stefon Diggs. Here’s an angle you’ve probably never seen:
What I had forgotten from that game is that the Vikings started with a 17-0 lead, as Minnesota’s defense embarrassed Drew Brees in the first half with two interceptions, three punts forced, and a missed field goal. Then a 24-6 run by the Saints gave New Orleans a one-point lead with :25 seconds on the clock.
And then Case Keenum became a legend.
One that nobody was quite sure what to do with when the season was over and that’s where the comparisons to Geno Smith and the 2022 Seattle Seahawks could come into play. It’s only been four games, but should the Seahawks win more than they lose and Smith continues to execute at a high level for most of the season, the arguments over what that means for Seattle’s future plans at quarterback will surely resemble those had about Keenum five years ago.
Some Vikings fans called Keenum “a fraud.”
The Athletic wanted to paint him as “a galvanizing force.”
I want to caution against comments like “Well, Geno Smith isn’t like Case Keenum because (X, Y, and Z)” because while that may be 100-percent true and valid, the only thing I want to frame here is the un-expected-ness of Geno Smith and Case Keenum as viable starters.
Smith went eight years between hearing that he was a team’s first option at quarterback. All Keenum heard coming out of college is that “air raid QBs don’t work in the NFL,” he was undrafted, didn’t make a 53-man roster as a rookie, and was destined to be a career backup by all reports.
The Vikings took a 7-0 lead against the Eagles in the NFC Championship, then Philadelphia went 38-0 the rest of the way en route to defeating Brady in the Super Bowl with an even more unexpected 2017 quarterback—Nick Foles—in front of the charge. These two quarterbacks had to prove themselves as legitimate starters in 2017 and both were entering tenuous contract situations in 2018. How would the NFL respond?
And what does it mean for Geno Smith given that he’s leading the NFL in several passing categories through four weeks and on a one-year, incentive-laden $3.5 million contract?
Let’s break down the best case scenario “What if?” scenario for Smith because thanks to Keenum and Foles, I think we already have our answer.
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What if the Seahawks are good?
Number one, this seems to be far less likely for Seattle than it was for Minnesota and Philadelphia in 2017. The Vikings had the number one defense in the NFL that year… By DVOA, by points allowed, by yards allowed, by passing touchdowns allowed. Minnesota had five Pro Bowl players and two first-team All-Pros on that side of the ball. The Seahawks might not have one Pro Bowl defensive player.
The Eagles were fourth in points and yards allowed, first in rushing yards allowed, and fifth in DVOA. The Seahawks are currently 31st in DVOA.
Improvement? Sure. But we can dispel the notion that Seattle has championship aspirations. Maybe instead, the Seahawks could be as lucky as the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals, a young roster with the 19th-ranked defense that got better as the season went on and then managed to catch all of the right breaks until the final quarter of the entire season. But I don’t see any debates here about whether or not Geno Smith could be 14-3 with the number one seed.
I could entertain a scenario in which Smith’s numbers resemble Keenum’s (high completion percentage, low interception and sack rate, comfortably managing an offense with two good receivers and several competent tight ends, supported by an above-average running game) and the Seahawks reach the playoffs in an unseasonably weak NFC.
One reason to expect this: The Seahawks have the second-easiest remaining schedule by DVOA.
I wouldn’t book a hotel room in Green Bay in January just yet, but Seattle might not be standing in quite as deep of shit as we expected a few weeks ago. Thanks to poor starts by the Rams and Cardinals, as well as several other upcoming Seahawks opponents, an 8-9 or 9-8 record could come into view by the midpoint of the season. Only five NFC teams are above .500 right now and at least one of them (the Giants) is a faker.
I’ve suspected all year long that some team in the NFC with a ~.500 record (the 18-game season can’t come soon enough) would reach the playoffs. Seattle’s not far from being 3-1. The schedule could do it and then Geno Smith, if he’s still the starter, would be a playoff starter.
What would the Seahawks do with Geno Smith then?
1 - The Contract
In 2018, after he had thrown the most famous pass in Vikings history and reached the NFC Championship game, Case Keenum was told “Thanks, but no thanks” by Mike Zimmer and the organization. Not only that, but Minnesota elected to not even use the franchise tag on Keenum, which would have guaranteed him a salary comparable to the average of the top-five QB salaries. It would have also given the Vikings the chance to trade Keenum to a QB-needy team for a draft pick.
The fact that Minnesota didn’t tag Keenum implies that no team in the league was willing to pay him that salary+give up a draft pick, even after winning 11 of his final 13 starts.
Instead, the Vikings hired John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator (Foles’ QB coach in Philadelphia, but fired after one season in Minnesota) after Shurmur was hired as head coach of the Giants (two-year stint, then fired), then signed Kirk Cousins in free agency. Keenum became a free agent and signed a two-year, $36 million contract with the Denver Broncos.
Keenum’s stint with the Broncos ended after one season as the starter, as Denver elected to go with Joe Flacco and Drew Lock in 2019 instead.
Almost everybody involved with Minnesota and Philadelphia’s offensive success stories in 2017 has since been met with disappointment and underwhelming results: Keenum, Foles, Carson Wentz, DeFilippo, Doug Pederson, Shurmur, Zimmer, Frank Reich, Nelson Agholor.
Only Stefon Diggs has survived.
Maybe the lesson there is “Sometimes unexplainable shit just happens and we shouldn’t read too much into it.”
If Smith were in a comparable situation to Keenum, I would expect Pete Carroll to make every effort imaginable to retain Smith, but not without a cap on how much the Seahawks are willing to spend at the quarterback position. That number would probably be lower than the franchise tag number.
Per OvertheCap, a 2023 franchise tag applied to a quarterback would guarantee him $31.5 million for next season. I don’t foresee any scenario in which Geno Smith is making $31 million in 2023. That number would eat more than half of Seattle’s cap space (roughly 60% of it) and hamstring Carroll’s ability to retain his own free agents, especially knowing that they have to pay two first round rookies.
That same scenario led to the Giants having to cut cornerback James Bradberry this year, now one of the top players on the 4-0 Eagles defense.
If Smith comes out of this season believing he’s worth a Kirk Cousins-like contract, say a three-year, $100 million deal, then I think that’s where he becomes a free agent like Keenum in 2018. The whole ideology built around Geno at quarterback right now is that the Seahawks can have success without an expensive quarterback behind center. It would be antithetical to the Pete Carroll philosophy to then pay Smith a two-year, $80 million or three-year, $110 million deal just after he executed the offense at a high level for $3.5 million.
Instead, I would treat Geno Smith the same as how the Saints treated Jameis Winston this year: “Hey, we’ll take you back, but feel free to test other offers.” Eventually that led to a two-year, $28 million contract to return to New Orleans and have a prove-it year with a $14 million signing bonus.
Given how poorly Winston and the Saints are doing right now, it was smarter to be cautious than overzealous, even though that signing bonus is looking a little rich at the moment.
Any talk of a big contract extension or new deal for Geno Smith doesn’t make sense to me, no matter how “good” people think that he is now or in the future. Only four days ago, Seattle had yet to score a second half offensive touchdown. Then they more than doubled their entire season scoring total once they faced the only defense in the NFL ranked lower than their own.
This is where fan debate gets really heated: You can paint a picture of Smith being a viable starter if the Seahawks continue to have an efficient offense against some of the league’s worst defenses. By DVOA, Seattle has nine games remaining against defenses ranked 19th or worse against the pass.
However, a lot of people are also just sick of being told these days that they sky is purple and that two plus two equals ham. Smith might be a competent quarterback, but “you don’t actually believe he’s better than Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert just because of his PFF grade and his completion percentage and QBR, etc., right????”
A reasonable middle ground for me would be a two-year, $30 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. And I wouldn’t say anything different if it was Drew Lock having this kind of season instead of Smith. Seattle would have to set a ceiling and it couldn’t be anything more than a bridge quarterback salary, if Smith scoffs at that because he believes another team would pay him more, then so be it. Carroll just traded Russell Wilson, so I don’t find it unfeasible that he would let Geno Smith walk over contract demands.
I see no path towards the franchise tag being used on Geno Smith. And no way that the Seahawks slow down their charge towards picking one in the 2023 draft.
2 - The Draft
I’ve already received e-mail threats over my “insinuations” that the Seahawks still need to look for a franchise quarterback in 2023, even after Seattle’s 48-45 victory over the Detroit Lions. Let me clear up any insinuations right now:
The Seahawks still need to look for a franchise quarterback in 2023.
If you’re keeping up with QB Survivor ‘23, then you know that next year’s class should have intriguing options all the way from the first overall pick to Mr. Irrelevant. Whether you’re talking about Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud in the early portion, Grayson McCall in the middle rounds, or perhaps a shot at someone like Sam Hartman on day three, the Seahawks have no excuse for not drafting a quarterback next year.
The only way I could see that being the case is that Seattle wants to tap into the 2024 class (Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and/or Quinn Ewers could end up as even better prospects than almost anyone in the 2023 group). And even then, what harm would it do John Schneider and Pete Carroll to add a young arm to the roster? The Seahawks have no quarterbacks signed past this season and they almost certainly aren’t going to bring back both Smith and Lock. If they do, there’s still room for a third arm to compete with one of them to be the backup.
Schneider has been dying to draft a quarterback ever since Wilson in 2012 and Alex McGough couldn’t have scratched that itch for him. Just do it.
I also do not think that Smith, Lock, or anyone else should prevent Seattle from vigorously scouting every first round possibility at quarterback. The Seahawks have two first round picks and there could be at least five quarterbacks drafted on day one, so why not make every effort to find out if any one of them could be a) available to Seattle and b) become the type of QB rookie contract discounts that gets a team to the Super Bowl?
It’s malpractice not to try.
QB free agency is almost never a good idea (see: Cousins, Keenum, Foles, etc.) and next year’s crop will probably not offer Lamar Jackson or Tom Brady, as both impending free agents are likely to be off the market soon enough. That leaves Jimmy Garoppolo, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones… Case Keenum.
3 - The End Result
If Geno Smith is “good” and the Seahawks are competitive, I think the end result should be an offer to the quarterback of something like $20 million upfront and an opportunity to prove it again. But I also think that the Seahawks would have to draft a quarterback at some point in 2023, preferably in the first four rounds. There are comparisons to be made to the 2012 class, the same one that resulted in Wilson, Cousins, and Foles all being taken between rounds 3-4.
That’s the best case scenario. Coming off of the high of scoring 48 points, let’s leave aside the worst case scenario for now.