RENTON — When Geno Smith visited the Seahawks facility in Renton in the spring of 2019 as a backup free agent quarterback looking for yet another place to call home, he felt something he never had before in his previous six years in the NFL with three other teams.
“It was just different,” Smith said. “It’s a different environment, has a different feel to it. So much positivity.”
That visit resulted in Smith signing a one-year contract to serve as a backup to Russell Wilson.
“I’ve still got the same blue suit (he wore then) in my locker,” Smith said. “I put it in there, and I was hoping to never take it out.”
Thursday assured that he won’t have to anytime soon as he signed a new three-year deal worth up to $105 million with the Seahawks that he’d agreed to earlier in the week. He then met the media, flanked by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, in what seemed like as feel-good of a news conference as the team has had in years.
“It’s a great, great day for us,” Carroll said. “And Geno and all of us have had so much fun getting to this point.”
Not that Smith didn’t have some challenges along the way. He spent seven years as a backup before re-emerging as a starter with the Seahawks in 2022 following the trade of Wilson and taking Seattle to a surprising 9-8 record by leading the NFL in completion percentage at 69.8%.
That came during a season in which Smith had a one-year contract worth a base of $3.5 million with incentives worth another $3.5 million, all of which he earned.
That Smith now had the ability to potentially test the open market — a market in which Derek Carr, who has played in the same amount of playoff games as Smith, just signed a four-year deal with the Saints worth up to $150 million — could have been tempting.
But as Smith said, “I found this place, and it changed me.”
That comfort Smith felt in Seattle and the chance he’d gotten with the Seahawks to revive his career made his No. 1 priority this offseason staying put more than simply making the most money.
“I wanted to stay here,” he said. “I was hoping we could get something done quickly. I didn’t want to have to test the free agent market. Obviously if I had to, then I had to. But I think everyone did a great job at making this work and now it’s about having it pay off in the future.”
The Seahawks, too, wanted to get the contract done quickly, specifically before the start of the free agent signing period next week.
The compromise that allowed that happen was Seattle giving Smith a deal that is worth a reported base value of $75 million — $25 million a year — but with another $30 million in incentives that serve as escalators in his contract for the 2024 and 2025 seasons.
If Smith hits all of those incentives he can make the same $35 million a year over the life of the deal as Wilson did in his last contract with Seattle and rank among the top-paid QBs in the NFL.
But the details made clear that may not be too easy to do. Smith will get $2 million each for hitting five benchmarks all related to matching or bettering his 2022 stats such as throwing for 30 TD passes, 4,282 yards, having a 69.75% completion percentage, a 100.874 passer rating and playing 80% of the snaps and Seattle winning 10 or more games. If he hits all five then he gets another $5 million. Smith would receive the money in the following year, though (meaning, if he hits them in 2023, the money and cap hit comes in 2024).
Carroll earlier in the week in an interview on Seattle Sports 710 AM referred to it as Smith “gambling a little bit” on himself.
Smith said Thursday it’s a gamble he’s happy to take.
“It’s just a way for both parties to make it work,” Smith said. “It allows the team room and (salary cap) space to do what they need to do, but it also gives me an opportunity to be one of the top 10-paid quarterbacks, which is something that I believe I am. And so with all those things, I think it worked out pretty great.”
The official cap hits of Smith’s deal had also not become public as of early Thursday afternoon.
But the heavy emphasis on incentives/escalators — something Seattle had not done with Wilson’s contracts — and structure means the cap hit for 2023 will be lower than the overall average and increase markedly the next two seasons, allowing Seattle space to make some needed moves this year.
“Everything we’re doing here is to try to maximize (a player’s) value,” Schneider. “But we’re also trying to put together a consistent championship-caliber teams, so there’s a balance that goes into that.”
Schneider thanked Smith and his agents “for being creative, being open-minded, understanding what we all wanted to accomplish.”
Indeed, the full revelation as Thursday progressed of the details made clear just how much Smith was willing to work with the Seahawks to stay. As revealed by the NFL Network, Smith’s only truly guaranteed money is in the first year of the deal. He has a $12.7 million guarantee if he’s on the roster next February. But he could be released before then and not get it, effectively making the contract something of a year-to-year deal.
“I trust these guys,” Smith said. “I understand that these guys are building a championship team, and that’s what we’re about here. And so, you know, I really wanted to be a part of that and I’m just happy that we’re able to find common ground that was balanced and worked for everyone.”
Still, no matter the final accounting of the numbers, Smith will make more in 2023 than the $17.5 million he made in the first 10 years of his career. And it was that big picture of his total journey Smith preferred to concentrate on Thursday.
“I hate when people kind of look at my story and say, you know, ‘You went from this to that,’” Smith said. “Man, I was in the league with the best players for 10 years, amongst some of the best coaches and getting paid good money and I’ve always done well by it. And so, I’ve always appreciated just the opportunity.”
In keeping with the feel-good vibes of the day, Smith said he’d have no problem if the Seahawks wanted to draft a quarterback this year, as the team has said it could still consider doing — and with the contract details making clear is a strong possibility.
“I love to compete,” he said, adding he views the NFL as a year-to-year league. “So I’ll compete with anybody. But I’m also going to help them out as much as I can, the same as we did with Drew (Lock). … So whether it’s a young guy or someone else, I want to help that player, just like any other player on our team, be the best that he can be. Because that’s my job as a leader, and that’s who I am at heart.”
And that the Seahawks have found a quarterback whose heart is firmly in Seattle — and proved it by happily re-signing with the team a year and a day after the Seahawks had traded Wilson — wasn’t lost on anyone
“It’s a high moment for us,” Carroll said. “We’re all having fun with it. We’re all having a blast.”
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