Seahawks have avoided overpaying a QB
Will Seahawks make the right decisions at QB in the future? Seaside Joe 1756
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill was once a bargain. After proving to be better than Marcus Mariota in 2019, Tennessee gave him a four-year, $118 million extension and his cap hit was $22.5 million in the first season and $11.1 million in the second. The Titans went 23-10 in those two years, but failed to win a playoff game.
Now at the end of second half of the contract, Tannehill has made $38.6 million and $36.6 million in the past two seasons. Tennessee has gone 7-10 and 5-9, with Tannehill being injured in both campaigns as well as getting benched for Will Levis this season. Levis is questionable to play, so it is widely assumed that Tannehill will get one last chance this year to prove himself as a starter before becoming a free agent in 2024.
And he will face off against Geno Smith, a bargain this season at $10.1 million but due for a raise to $31.2 million in 2024 and $33.7 million in 2025.
The Seahawks can notice what happened to the Titans and Tannehill without letting it dictate their decision on how to proceed at quarterback after the season…but they should at least be taking notice. Between Seattle and Tennessee, the quarterback who costs less is better and his team is doing better. Causation? Correlation?
Just avoid tarnation.
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2023 QB Salaries
Tannehill has eaten up the second-most cap space of any quarterback this season and yet he has only thrown two touchdowns and six interceptions in his six starts. In response, the Titans had to cut corners and hope to be carried by their few stars; a strategy that is working for the L.A. Rams but Tannehill is nowhere near the quarterback of Matthew Stafford.
Also, Tennessee is 5-9 but only a few lucky bounces from being 8-6 so I don’t want to overrate the Rams and/or underrate the Titans.
Part of the issue is that the Titans haven’t hit on their draft picks recently. Rookie 11th overall pick Peter Skoronski is having some first-year struggles, his first season at guard after playing tackle in college. Last year’s first round pick, receiver Treylon Burks, isn’t contributing much and has one career touchdown. The year before that, the Titans picked cornerback Caleb Farley and he’s been out for the entire season. And in 2020, they picked Isaiah Wilson, one of the biggest first round busts in recent memory because he essentially quit football at the start of his career.
As the strategy goes, you draft a cheap quarterback so you can spend on other positions. Conversely, you live with an expensive quarterback in the hopes that you will draft bargains but returns on prospects come with no guarantees.
Even the Seahawks have to be wary of their return on recent draft investments when they decide what to do about Geno Smith’s upcoming $20 million cap raise.
Thankfully, Smith’s next salary is not the $64 million that the Cleveland Browns have to pay Deshaun Watson next year; the $52 million to Kyler Murray; or the $47 million to Daniel Jones. But it’s a consideration nonetheless.
(Kirk Cousins has a $28.5 million void year, meaning the Vikings are paying almost as much to not have him as the Seahawks would be paying to have Geno; the Vikings will probably re-sign Cousins, but can’t erase the $28.5 million they owe him from the last contract.)
The Seahawks can choose to keep Geno at the $31 million or release him to save $14 million, but at least they have options. The Cardinals have to consider getting rid of Kyler Murray at any cost necessary, only five years after drafting him and less than two years after signing him to an extension. Cutting Murray will leave $81 million in dead money next season. If Arizona had played hardball with Murray in negotiations, they could have told him to stay home in 2022 and the team wouldn’t be any worse off. They probably could have traded him. They’d probably be better than they are now.
The thought of not giving into a quarterback’s demands doesn’t enter the minds of people who run the Cardinals. It’s worked out pretty well for the Seahawks.
In addition to the draft picks and players, the Seahawks acquired tens of million in cap space by letting the Broncos pay Russell Wilson the contract extension he was demanding in 2022. Wilson isn’t an extraordinary overpay in 2023 ($22 million) and he’s still manageable in 2024 ($35.4 million), but then he hits a $55.4 million hit in 2025 and $58.4 million in 2026, with two more years on the deal after that.
Denver would have $85 million in dead money if they cut him in 2024, but maybe they could convince a team to trade for him because his base salary is only $17 million. Then the Broncos would “only” be left with $68 million in dead money with a $32 million additional cap charge.
Murray, Wilson, and Watson are the most extreme examples. But of the 12 quarterbacks to get at least $40 million per season recently, maybe only half of teams are satisfied customers.
Really Bad Deals: Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, Daniel Jones
Really Bad Teams: Justin Herbert
Injured: Joe Burrow
Disappointing: Jalen Hurts
You’re Better Than This: Patrick Mahomes
Are You Gonna Miss The Playoffs?: Josh Allen, Matthew Stafford
Are You Gonna Win A Playoff Game?: Dak Prescott
He’s Not Without Fault: Lamar Jackson
Going back to their 2023 salary cap hits, we know that Mahomes (#1 in salary cap) has directly caused the Chiefs to lose players who helped them win the Super Bowl and now Kansas City is essentially being rescued by the fact that they play in a division with the Broncos, Raiders, and Chargers. I don’t know if Mahomes can rescue the Chiefs in the playoffs again.
Lamar’s cap hit is only $22 million, how will the Ravens adjust as that number gets $10 million higher in 2024, then another $11 million higher in 2025, then another $31 million higher in 2026?
How often has paying a quarterback a premium salary actually worked out in the favor of the club? As opposed to teams like the Seahawks and Texans, organizations that traded those financial demands and obligations for draft pick and cap space?
Playoff QBs 2023
We haven’t made it to the playoffs yet, but take note of some teams that are there or almost there:
49ers - Brock Purdy
Cowboys - Dak Prescott
Eagles - Jalen Hurts
Lions - Jared Goff
Chiefs - Patrick Mahomes
Ravens - Lamar Jackson
Dolphins - Tua Tagovailoa
Purdy is making less than $900,000. San Francisco’s third string quarterback Brandon Allen is making more than him. Tua’s rookie deal puts him at $9.6 million, right under Geno. The Dolphins must decide on his contract demands next year and they will almost certainly pay up. The Lions survive Goff’s deal because they have hit on their draft picks recently.
On the cusp:
Browns - Deshaun Watson, Joe Flacco
Rams - Matthew Stafford
Bengals - Joe Burrow, Jake Browning
Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence
Colts - Gardner Minshew, Anthony Richardson
Texans - C.J. Stroud
Vikings - Kirk Cousins, Nick Mullens
Bucs - Baker Mayfield
Seahawks - Geno Smith
Bills - Josh Allen
The Browns get more from Flacco than they got from Watson. The Bengals are probably actually doing better with Browning than they did with Burrow. But the Vikings definitely miss Cousins. Kind of mixed results here, some expensive quarterbacks who haven’t locked in a playoff spot with three weeks to go, some inexpensive ones getting credit for exceeding expectations.
What do Seahawks do with this information?
The only objective for any team is to have a great quarterback, regardless of expense, because having elite play at that position does tend to stabilize a franchise and make them viable contenders for many years even as the rest of the roster is turned over many times. Players like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees, all of whom were acquired at different points of the draft and cost different-sized salaries over the course of their careers.
The Seahawks could contend with Geno Smith or Drew Lock—if they hit on a lot of other positions. Will the Seahawks make a change from Smith to Lock or from both to someone entirely new?
We’re not done seeing how competitive they can be right now, so how Seattle performs against the Titans and over the rest of the season will help get us a little closer to answering that question.