The last time Russell Wilson was fully healthy and playing in an offense he liked, Seattle went 12-4 and hosted a wild card playoff game, which they lost to division rival Los Angeles. That was in 2020; Wilson was the 3rd highest-paid QB in the league.
Despite plenty of weapons on offense and a retooled defense, the team struggled to score points late in the season, and a veteran defense could not stop everyone, but they still won most of their games.
For a team with more than ten wins, they certainly did not look the part despite a red-hot start to the season. Four of their last five games were against teams with losing records, and they only scored more than 30 points in one of those games. It was more of the same in the playoffs, as they scored 20 points and lost by two scores.
2021 was a mixed bag as Wilson struggled in a new system and missed time for the first time with a significant injury to his throwing hand. Wilson and Geno Smith combined for seven wins, and Seattle missed the playoffs. In the offseason, Wilson was traded, and Geno was named the new starter.
This season, Geno led the Hawks to a 9-8 record and a surprise appearance in the wild card playoffs, where they lost to division rival San Francisco. Geno was the 38th highest-paid QB in the league. Geno played like a top 10 QB, but let’s say for argument he was just top 15. The 15th highest-paid QB in the league was Tom Brady, who made $15M. It’s a huge leap from top 15 to top 10, where the QBs were paid $30M or more on average.
Kirk Cousins was the 10th highest-paid QB in the league, at $35M. Even if you slide a few spots, Matt Ryan made $30M as the 13th highest-paid QB. Is Geno as good as those players? I think so, but the sample size is one season for a 32 going on 33-year-old player.
If I’m Seattle Executive VP of Football Operations Pete Carroll, I’m ignoring everything up until 2021, when Geno had his first start since 2017. You can look at his early career numbers and squirm, but that’s not the player Geno is today, and everyone in the building knows it. Up until a disastrous turnover in San Francisco last week, Geno looked like a top-10 QB. It may have cost him money the way the rest of that game went, but it really shouldn’t. The offensive line will get better, and they will add depth, and he won’t always be stuck trying to avoid 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa for an entire game thrice in one season.
Geno set the record for passing yards and completion percentage in Seattle, his first year as a starter in the NFL in eight years. Do you think that was a fluke? He makes the system work the way it’s supposed to, something Wilson couldn’t do. If Seattle wants to keep Geno, they will likely have to pay him top-15 money. Based on projected cap hits for 2023, that would put him in the same company as Arizona QB Kyler Murray, who is set to make $16M next year. Geno’s cap hit was $3.5M in 2022. Can Seattle see themselves giving Geno a $12M per year raise? They had better seriously consider it because the alternative is to go into free agency and the draft with no QBs on the roster. Geno’s deal expired, as did backup Drew Lock’s contract. They have no QBs under contract going into the 2023 season.
Seattle doesn’t have to sign Geno; they have the number 5 pick in the upcoming draft courtesy of Denver and Wilson, which they could use to select a future QB. They could also get a huge upgrade on their defense, or they could trade down and get even more picks to bring in a few more impact players. They have their own pick at #20, so they could go for the moon and trade up into the top 3 if they wanted. They have plenty of options.
What might make the most sense is to see about signing Geno to a short deal with lots of incentives, then trading their number five pick down to the top 10 and using it on Florida QB Anthony Richardson. They would still have a first-round pick to use on defense, as well as two second-round picks to get a massive upgrade for the future. Most of their roster is young and will be here for at least 4-5 years. That’s a wide-open window to go on a deep playoff run.
When Seattle built their team from 2010-2013, they knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but they also knew that having young talent wasn’t enough – they needed a good mix of young and veteran players. They have that mix today, but they need more of it. They didn’t draft as much of their defense as people think. About half of their players were guys that didn’t pan out somewhere else and came to Seattle looking to prove their former teams wrong. That can happen again, and Carroll seems to follow a similar recipe. He still has work to do on both sides, but remember, this rebuild started this year, so even if he doesn’t win it all next year, he’s still on track. If Seattle wins the Super Bowl in 2025, they will be on the same track as when they won it all in 2013.
As much as I’d love to see Geno sign a mega deal for a few years, I’m not sure he has that many years remaining, and I don’t know that signing a 32-year-old QB with a see-saw career to a big contract is the best idea. Seattle paid big money at the time to bring Matt Flynn to town, only to realize he wasn’t needed because Wilson was solid as a rookie. You can’t count on that happening again, and I would worry about trying to have it all. It’s rare that your veteran and their backup are capable of being the starter. Usually, one starts to trend up while the other trends down; it’s extremely rare you have legitimate starting QBs on your roster. Even when Geno was in town last year, he didn’t play nearly as well. Part of that could be that he was just trying to hold Wilson’s spot for him, but it also could be that he didn’t feel comfortable yet. There’s a reason his play this year caught most of us by surprise. This wasn’t something we had seen from him at the pro level.
Seattle will do what makes the most sense from a dollars and cents standpoint while looking at the big picture. If having to pay Geno more than he is realistically worth just because some other guys got mega deals they didn’t earn, that should be considered. You wouldn’t want to pay Geno Carson Wentz or Matt Ryan money, would you? Or Kirk Cousins? None of those guys are taking their teams any farther than Geno took his, but they’re being paid like world-beaters.
It’s not Seattle’s fault other teams overpaid their above-average QBs like they are among the best in the business. Geno is a very good QB, but let’s be honest; he’s not elite. If Seattle has a chance to get an elite QB in the draft, they should take it, and if Geno doesn’t want to stay in Seattle for a deal that makes sense for both sides, then he should get a better deal somewhere else. Geno deserves every penny he can get, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be from the Seahawks.
If Seattle can afford to keep Geno while putting enough money in the pot to pay some free agents and re-sign players the next couple of years and develop a young QB, that would be ideal. When Carroll arrived in Seattle, they were riding the last years of Matt Hasselbeck’s career, and while the win over the Saints in 2010 is incredible, that team struggled because they were top-heavy on payroll, and it made more sense to balance the wealth out and get a more talented roster. That answer may be the same for the 2023 Seahawks, even if they don’t want to hear it.
The team needs to invest in their future, and that needs to be their top priority. If there is a way to keep Geno without sacrificing their goals, then they should look at that as well. But they need to remember that they traded Wilson to get out of his contract. It would be pretty foolish to trade him if you’re going to sign someone else to a big contract a year later. Geno is an upgrade over Wilson, but it would be tough to see the team investing in Geno and still getting enough talent to win a Super Bowl. If they don’t think they can win a championship with Geno, they should be honest about that and let him go somewhere he can be the starter for years to come, not just until they get the new kid ready to go.