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Geno Smith and the leverage of the franchise tag

US Football League NFL plays in Munich Photo by Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images

Week 11 of the 2022 NFL season is all but in the books, with the Seattle Seahawks set to host the Las Vegas Raiders at Lumen Field in a game played at a reasonable time Sunday. However that game turns out, one of the biggest questions for the Hawks during the offseason, and a topic that has become a common subject of discussion among Seattle fans is what kind of contract it might take to retain Geno Smith.

The obvious solution proposed by many is that the team can simply apply the franchise tag, as it is unlikely that any other team would then sign him to a contract and send the Seahawks an additional two first-round selections. However, the use of the franchise tag comes with a significant downside, and that is the amount of cap space it takes up. Specifically, the franchise tag predicted to be in the neighborhood of $31.5M for 2023 by, and that is cap space that is taken up as soon as the tag is applied. When using the franchise tag, it does not matter whether a player has signed the tag or not, the associated cap hit comes out of the available cap space for a team as soon as the use of the tag is officially filed with the league office.

That is not something that would prevent the Seahawks from using the tag, however, it is something that could potentially cause some headaches. Getting right to the heart of the issue is the fact that while salary cap sites like OTC have the team projected to have $53.7M of salary cap space for 2023, that number does not include a complete roster, as the team currently has just 33 players signed for next season. Looking at the effective cap space for Seattle, OTC projects the Seahawks to under $30M of available cap space after filling out the roster, paying incentives to players like Geno Smith and Uchenna Nwosu and allocating money for the draft class

In addition, the under $30M number is before Damien Lewis see his base salary increase thanks to reaching the playing time thresholds necessary to trigger the Proven Performance Escalator, as well as before tendering either Mike Jackson or Ryan Neal as restricted free agents.

Putting all those pieces of the puzzle together, without making moves to free up additional cap space, the Seahawks are not currently in a position to have the ability to apply the franchise tag. Now, there are certainly ways to create that space, whether it means moving on from Shelby Harris or Gabe Jackson, but with every potential move, there are additional questions created that need answered. Would the team be willing to move on from Harris with Poona Ford also slated to hit free agency? Jackson certainly isn’t the force he once was on the interior of the offensive line, but Phil Haynes and Austin Blythe are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents as well in the spring, so how many holes is the team willing to look to fill on the interior of the line in the offseason?

What that means is that in the weeks leading up to the start of free agency Geno Smith will have a truckload of leverage when it comes to negotiating a new contract. The options for the Seahawks are to effectively boot starters off the roster in order to create the space necessary to apply the franchise tag, or to meet Smith’s contractual demands.

It’s not a great situation for the Hawks in terms of needing to navigate salary cap constraints in order to work on the roster while working around a single potential contract, but it’s certainly more desirable than a situation of trying to figure out whether Stan Gelbaugh, Kelly Stouffer or Dan McGwire is the quarterback of the future.