Tuesday should bring some clarity to the contract negotiations between Pro Bowl quarterback Geno Smith and the Seattle Seahawks.
That marks the deadline for NFL teams to apply the franchise tag to prospective free agents, which in Smith's case would mean a one-year, $32.416 million tender to keep him from reaching the open market. Tagging Smith would effectively establish that amount as the floor for the annual average on a multiyear deal, while not tagging him would indicate that the Seahawks believe they can re-sign him at a lower APY.
Nothing that was said publicly at the scouting combine made it seem any less likely that Seattle and Smith will get a deal done.
"We're working it, the back and forth is all ongoing," coach Pete Carroll told reporters, according to the Seahawks' website. "How's it going? I think it's going to go the right direction. We've got to get it done."
But it remains to be seen what the deal will look like, when it will get done and whether the Seahawks will use the franchise tag in the meantime.
Here's a closer look at the situation:
What's happened to this point?
Smith pulled off a remarkable career turnaround in 2022, going from backup for most of the past seven seasons to Pro Bowler and the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. He ranked in the top 10 in several statistical categories, including first in completion rate, fourth in touchdown passes and sixth in Total QBR.
After playing on a one-year, $3.5 million deal that ended up paying him $7 million with incentives, the 32-year-old is in line for a massive raise. Both sides are intent on getting a deal done and have expressed confidence that they will, with Smith saying at the Pro Bowl that it's "looking very good." General manager John Schneider said at the combine that talks have been "positive" and that bigger deals like this take time.
What are some of the dynamics potentially at play?
Smith's unusual career path may make determining a fair deal less straightforward. He can reasonably contend that he was easily one of the league's 10 best quarterbacks in 2022 -- maybe even one of the top five -- and that he should be paid accordingly. The Seahawks, meanwhile, could reasonably counter that the quarterbacks getting paid at those levels earned those deals based on more than one strong season.
The Seahawks have some leverage in the form of a few potentially viable alternatives. They're loaded with draft capital, including the fifth and 20th overall picks, as well as two second-rounders. Drew Lock is another cheaper option and a player the Seahawks are still high on, though he's also set to become a free agent. So the Seahawks can negotiate knowing that if Smith's asking price is too high, they could draft a quarterback or turn to Lock, and hope their system can make up for the drop-off from Smith.
What kind of deal might be realistic?
ESPN polled three NFL agents and two agency contract analysts before the combine for their thoughts on how much Smith will command. Four of their predictions fell between $30 million and $35 million APY on multiyear deals, while the last was for a franchise tag.
But that leads to the question of what Smith might get on the open market, and whether the Seahawks would let him test free agency to get the truest gauge of his market value in lieu of preventing him from getting there via the franchise tag. That approach might make sense if they don't think any other teams would be willing to pay him tag-level money.
In an NFL Nation piece simulating this offseason's quarterback movement, ESPN has Smith hitting free agency and returning to the Seahawks on a three-year, $90 million deal.
How likely is the franchise tag?
It would be both against the Seahawks' MO and a huge burden on their salary cap, even though they're in good shape there.
According to Over The Cap, the Seahawks are sitting in the top 10 of available cap space with around $24 million now that Russell Wilson's contract is completely off their books. They can free up $6.5 million by releasing guard Gabe Jackson -- which seems likely -- and another $8.9 million by releasing defensive end Shelby Harris. The combined savings would put them at around $39 million.
But while that would be enough to cover a franchise tag for Smith -- it would count in its entirety against their cap once applied -- there would be hardly anything left to add or re-sign other free agents. Keep in mind they also have to earmark some money to sign their 2023 draft class -- OTC projects that to cost around $10 million -- and for in-season expenses such as the practice squad, injury replacements and more.
For teams, the major downside of the franchise tag is that, depending on the position, it can mean an unwieldy cap number since it doesn't allow for the charges to be spread out as with a multiyear deal. That helps explain why only two quarterbacks (Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins, each twice) have been tagged in the past 10 years.
The Seahawks have only used it twice since Schneider and Carroll arrived in 2010, and one was on kicker Olindo Mare for $2.184 million. The other was a $17.128 million tag for defensive end Frank Clark, who was then traded.
Schneider, speaking in general about the cap challenges associated with the tag during his weekly appearance on Seattle Sports Radio 710-AM, may have dropped a hint that the Seahawks don't plan to use it on Smith.
"You have to have flexibility within the cap," he said. "You always have to do that if you want to try to continue to build your team all throughout the year. I'm talking all the way through the trade deadline or extending guys at the end of seasons and everything like that. So it can be prohibitive. Obviously there's different positions where it makes sense because the number's not quite as high."
Using the less-common transition tag on Smith would cost roughly $3 million less while effectively setting his floor at $29.504 million. Unlike the franchise tag, the transition tag wouldn't require any other team to part with draft picks if they were to sign Smith to an offer sheet that Seattle declined to match; it would only assure the Seahawks the right to match any offer.