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Why the Geno Smith negotiations are likely to drag into the summer

NFL: DEC 04 Seahawks at Rams Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Still more than a month remains until the deadline for NFL teams to apply the franchise or transition tag, with fans across the league speculating about which players will or will not have a tag applied. For the Seattle Seahawks, after extending kicker Jason Myers, there is only one player on the roster who could potentially warrant either tag, quarterback Geno Smith.

Smith has, of course, expressed his desire to return to the team, while the front office duo of Pete Carroll and John Schneider have expressed their desire for Geno to remain under center going forward. With that being the case, the question becomes, why haven’t the two sides come to terms on a contract, and the answer to that is that both sides are professional negotiators who aren’t looking to give the other side the upper hand. Meaning that while both sides have publicly expressed their desire to get a deal done, Schneider stated in late January they “Hope to get started here pretty quick,” on the process of getting a contract done with Geno.

The holdup on the process starting is that both the Seattle front office and Smith’s agent know that whoever speaks first in a negotiation provides the upper hand to the other party. Thus, it’s very likely that the two sides are at a standstill in terms of actually talking about a potential contract for Geno until something gives on one side or the other.

Now, of course, Schneider and Carroll have been vocal in expressing their desire to give Smith the payday of his life, but this was likely in part an attempt to lure Smith into telling his agent to get a deal done. Don’t be surprised if in the coming weeks the team shifts this to a strategy that involves Pete and John very visibly paying extra attention to quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, the Combine and Pro Days. From Smith’s side, his agent is experienced enough not to worry about this, but this is Geno’s first bite at free agency with a Pro Bowl on his resume, and that could factor in. However, Smith’s agent knows that all Geno needs to do is wait, and eventually the Hawks will have three options:

  • Speak first and open negotiations with a contract offer,
  • Apply the franchise tag, or
  • Do nothing and let Smith hit free agency and start a bidding war among teams interested in his services.

Between the multiple projections for Smith to land a contract with an average annual salary in the $37.5M and the fact that it only takes one team to overpay in free agency, the franchise tag seems a very likely option. In addition, many fans have posited that the team should simply apply the franchise tag and let Geno play 2023 on a one-year, $32.416M deal. That avoids the negotiations and the potential pitfalls of a player’s performance regressing following a career year, however, there is a very material factor attached to the use of the franchise tag.

That factor is that the $32.416M cap hit associated with the franchise tag is effective the moment the team applies the tag. That means that should the Seahawks front office extend a franchise tender to Smith prior to the deadline of 4 PM New York time on March 7, the $32.416M comes out of the cap space available for the team immediately. The big issue with that is, of course, that the Seahawks currently have just $31.042M of cap space per, a number that will only decrease further as the team fills out its roster by tendering its exclusive rights free agents and restricted free agents in March.

Potentially going into the red on 2023 cap space is not an immediate concern, given the ability to create space by moving on from higher priced veterans such as Gabe Jackson or Shelby Harris should they see fit. It won’t take a whole lot of moves for the team to come into compliance if the front office opts to apply the tag. However, fans have seen what free agency looks like when the Seahawks go into it with extremely limited cap space and it’s not pretty. For those who may have forgotten, the Hawks entered free agency in 2018 with roughly $12M of available space, and used that money to put together the following free agent class:

  • TE Ed Dickson
  • LB Barkevious Mingo
  • WR Jaron Brown
  • G D.J. Fluker
  • DT Tom Johnson
  • DT Shamar Stephen
  • CB Dontae Johnson
  • K Sebastian Janikowski

Coming back to the present day, the 2023 Seahawks have plenty of holes on the roster that they will need to address through free agency and the draft, with a half dozen Week 1 starters set to hit either hit the market or likely to be unavailable early in the year due to injury. And that is before taking any potential cap casualties into consideration. Basically, if Geno is taking up $32.416M of cap space on the tag the team would be looking at trying to address those holes while needing to shop out of the bargain bin. That wouldn’t represent a significant departure from offseason past, but it could certainly impede what they want to do, given their preferred methods for structuring contracts.

However, if the team feels it can navigate free agency without being hindered by the cap space tied up in the franchise tag, the point of lowest leverage for Smith is in the middle of the summer just before training camp. By then the Hawks will be looking to free up cap space in order to sign their rookie class ahead of training camp, while also creating the room necessary for the practice squad and injury replacements to be able to navigate the 2023 season. On the flip side, the options for Smith at that point are to play on a contract that pays a guaranteed $32.416M and look forward to playing the same franchise tag game next offseason or accept a contract which guarantees more money, but potentially carries a lower total windfall than Smith might be hoping for.

Put those factors together and the 4PM New York time on July 15 deadline for the two sides to reach agreement on a multi-year contract becomes the deadline worth watching. Which, of course, means it’s time to get comfortable because the discourse around a potential Smith contract is likely to continue on for several more months.