I wanted to wait until after the New Orleans game to post this.
After all — I’d witnessed the Saints come to London, devour Minnesota’s offensive line and turn Kirk Cousins into the check-down-Charlie he has a tendency to become.
This was a real test. Not the cakewalk we saw in Detroit or against the Falcons.
Geno Smith passed the test with flying colours.
I don’t need to post all the rankings and statistics that other people have researched — you’ve probably seen them all by now anyway. The ‘TLDR’ version is simply that he’s in the top-five in virtually every quarterback-relevant metric. He is currently PFF’s highest graded QB with an outstanding 90.2 grade.
Frankly, he’s been a revelation.
Yes there have been some slow moments. The first three games saw the offense grind to a halt after half-time. They failed to score a point against the admittedly excellent San Francisco defense.
Yet the performance in New Orleans, despite the upgrade in opponent, once again showed off what Smith has done so well to start 2022.
A lot of people are praising his ability to execute the offense (which he is doing very well). I think he’s gone beyond that. I don’t think he’s just ‘functioned’ his way to a 90.2 grade. I think he’s actually in attack mode.
He’s taking the fight to the defense. He’s throwing with confidence, poise and more than a hint of aggression. However, the accuracy and timing remains.
It’s been so impressive to see him throw to all levels of the field with so much skill. The touchdowns to Tyler Lockett on Sunday were textbook and brilliant — the kind of throws we’d all be amazed by if Justin Herbert was the one throwing the pass.
He’s taking the chance to challenge defenders 1v1, he’s throwing over the middle, he understands when to check down, he’s being creative with his legs. Geno Smith is playing like a X-factor talent.
He is making the most of his two key receiving weapons. The tight ends are a dynamic factor in Seattle for the first time in the Pete Carroll era. The Seahawks have the #1 offense per DVOA and it’s not an illusion or a red-herring.
It’s simply that Geno Smith is playing that well.
I’m happy to admit my concerns have so far been proven completely wrong. In fairness, I don’t think anyone expected this — short of those investing blind faith. But I was especially critical because I expected a player who would function against bad opponents then be shut-down by moderate-to-good opponents.
I thought he would be a turnover risk when pressured or when feeling the need to score and keep pace in explosive games.
None of that has been the case. He’s instead been attack-minded and dynamic without risking turnovers. Smith has elevated his play far beyond anything we saw in his previous stints as a starter, or any snaps he had in pre-season with the Seahawks.
He deserves tremendous praise — which he is getting from the fans and media — and he’s developing into something of a cult hero. A phenomena.
If it continues the Seahawks should start talking him up as ‘comeback player of the year’ during media conferences. Get a little momentum behind the campaign.
It’s actually a shame the defense is so horrendous that he isn’t getting the support his play deserves. Even if the unit were middling, they’d have a chance to win any game with the offensive output they’re producing.
It’s not only Smith who deserves credit though. The receivers and tight ends are stepping up too. The two rookie offensive tackles are providing great confidence for the future with the way they are starting their careers. Shane Waldron is creating the kind of production we all hoped a Sean McVay protégé would provide. Pete Carroll deserves credit because his faith in Smith has been unwavering and it has been repaid.
This season is about finding green shoots for the future and the offense is certainly delivering that. This is good news.
Admittedly there are still 12 regular season games remaining and things can change. If this continues though, it’s a big positive for the Seahawks.
So what does it mean for the future?
A lot of people are already talking about extending Smith’s contract or at least retaining him for next season. On his current trajectory, that would appear to be a no-brainer. There are some things people need to remember though.
Firstly, he will be a man in demand if he keeps this up. If Kirk Cousins can set records for guaranteed money as a free agent — don’t put it past someone making a humungous offer for Smith if he continues his fine play.
The Seahawks don’t have much cap space to play with in 2023. The media keep talking up their spending power because Russell Wilson’s dead money comes off the books. Most of it has been spent already. Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, for example, will cost a combined $36m against the cap next season. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett will cost $31m. Uchenna Nwosu and Shelby Harris account for nearly $26m currently. Will Dissly and Noah Fan will cost $17m.
As of today, Seattle is only projected to have $32m in effective cap space for 2023. They can create more but not much more — and will create holes that need filling on the roster if they start cutting veteran starters.
Making the situation worse is the fact they only have 33 players contracted for next year — the third fewest in the league.
The $32m in cap space will evaporate quickly as they fill out their roster.
They simply don’t have a lot to play with, unless they want to extend Smith on a long-term contract and produce a smaller cap hit for next year. That would be a risk given he turned 32 yesterday and might not benefit from the ‘surprise’ nature of his 2022 re-emergence in future seasons (or even later this season).
If he continues to play this way, he might even start asking for major money. The top quarterbacks are being paid $50m a year these days. He wouldn’t get near that — but Jimmy Garoppolo’s last contract paid him nearly $28m a year. That’s not unreasonable for a player performing like he is at the moment. The Seahawks couldn’t afford that unless, like Garoppolo, it was a five-year extension.
I think the Seahawks fully intended to have a quarterback in 2023 that was on a rookie contract. I think they spent accordingly this year because they anticipated not spending at quarterback. I think that was their plan.
Smith’s form has probably surprised them as much as it has us, regardless of what Carroll might say about believing in Geno. If they truly believed, he wouldn’t be on a proportionally tiny one-year contract which now looks great value for 2022 but a problem when the season ends.
It might force the Seahawks to run the risk of losing Smith if another team bites and snatches him away. Ideally they keep Smith and draft a quarterback and have the best of both worlds — but they could end up having to go the rookie route anyway.
It’ll be fascinating to see what his market ends up being.
I also hope the Seahawks show restraint and more or less stick to the plan. Smith is into his 30’s and not likely a long-term solution. It’d be great if he could be Seattle’s answer to Alex Smith in Kansas City. That way, they can be aggressive to find a long-term successor, redshirt them like the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes and possibly get a handsome trade return for Smith when it’s time to pass on the baton.
While the top priority might appear to be fixing the defense — as I’ve spent considerable time noting recently — the answers are unlikely to come in the first round of the 2023 draft. This is a class with a collection of four highly talented but different quarterbacks plus Will Anderson and Bijon Robinson who deserve a high-ish first round placing. After that it’s extremely hard to identify top-15 players, game-wreckers and playmakers on defense.
Getting a young quarterback in a good year for the position at the top of round one remains a very enticing proposition.
Fortunately I also think there are defensive diamonds to be uncovered on day two and three and I’ll write about some of them in an article due out this week.
As Smith continues to excel and be Seattle’s ‘MVG’ (rather than ‘MVP’) — setting up a Smith/Mahomes transition would be the best thing to do for the long-term future of the franchise. That might mean negotiating with Smith now, taking a slight gamble that he continues his great form while also getting a bit of a discount because you’re securing his future today and placing a bet on his continued success.
He might wish to bet on himself, of course. He also might appreciate a show of faith and some long-term security that probably felt a million miles away just a few months ago when he was simply fighting to win a starting job.
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