Before the season, we expected the Seahawks would end up 8-9 — leaning on a strong running game and a defense that would force some takeaways to make up for inconsistent play at quarterback.
Well, here they are, right where we projected them – 8-8 with a shot at 9-8 and the playoffs (if Green Bay loses in Week 18, too). They have gotten here largely the way we thought they would – the huge difference being that they got a Pro Bowl season out of QB Geno Smith rather than having to use a combo of Smith and Drew Lock throughout the season.
Smith just beat his old team, the Jets, to get to 8-8. He did it with the help of that running game, which has been streaky rather than strong this season, and the turnovers, which have gone both ways all year (the win over the Jets was the first game in which the Hawks did not lose a turnover).
Once this season ends – whether it is with a playoff game or not – there will be plenty of debate about whether the Hawks should pay Smith top money to return. Some have wanted to extend him since September. We said, “Let’s wait and see.”
With the season almost finished, we now have seen. So let’s look at how he fared and how he and the Seahawks might fit into what could be a very interesting quarterback market.
It speaks to the paucity of good teams in the NFC that the QB of an 8-8 team is in the Pro Bowl. Smith joins Jalen Hurts of the 13-win Eagles and Kirk Cousins of the 12-win Vikings. The only other winning teams in the NFC are 12-win Dallas, which has had Dak Prescott for just 11 of 16 games, and San Francisco, which has won 12 games with three quarterbacks.
Smith was good, sometimes spectacular, though rarely clutch. He did not elevate his team as much as he simply took advantage of his star skill players and game situations (neutral or advantageous).
The Pro Bowl selection would indicate that Smith’s team underachieved vs. his play – that half the losses came despite his performance. But is that true? Let’s take a look.
Smith’s role in the losses
The Hawks lost three games to Super Bowl contenders — two vs. the 49ers and one in Kansas City – by an average of 14 points. The offense averaged just 10 points in those three games. Smith completed 70% for 650 yards, with just two TDs and two interceptions. Two of those games netted his worst passer ratings, and the other was his fifth worst of the season.
The running game did not help vs. the 49ers’ dominant defense, gaining a combined 106 yards in the two games.
Seattle’s five other losses – all to non-winning teams – were by one score or less. The defense was to blame for most, but Smith had some fault in each as well.
In a 27-23 loss to Atlanta in Week 3, Smith failed to score in two fourth-quarter drives. He threw an interception at the end on fourth down. He finished 32 of 44 for 325 yards, with two TD passes. This loss was as much on him as on a defense that gave up 179 rushing yards.
In Week 5, the Hawks lost a 39-32 shootout against a Saints team that ran all over them (235 yards, including a 60-yard TD run by Taysom Hill). Smith was OK — 16 of 25 for 268 yards and three scores – but he and the offense needed to do better than 1 for 9 on third downs.
After that game, the defense straightened out and helped the Hawks on a four-game winning streak. But then they lost five out of six – a skid that included losses to the Bucs, Raiders and Panthers (teams that now have a total of 20 wins).
Against the Bucs in Munich, Smith was 23 of 33 for 275 yards and two TDs, but the Hawks ran for just 39 yards and were 1 of 9 on third downs. The defense also failed to sack Tom Brady while allowing 161 rushing yards to the league’s worst rushing team.
After the bye, the defense laid another egg as Josh Jacobs ran for 229 yards, including the winning 86-yard touchdown in overtime. In the 40-34 loss, Smith was 27 of 37 for 328 yards, two TDs and an interception. He did enough – 34 points — to win that game, although he did once again fail in the clutch (he had two more drives to win it before Jacobs ran off with it).
After the Hawks squeaked out a win over the Rams – off Smith’s only clutch winning drive of the season – they dropped three in a row. That included a disappointing 30-24 home loss to Carolina, which ran for 223 yards and held the ball for 39 minutes. Smith had his worst game of the season, throwing two picks and completing just 21 of 36 passes (58.3 %) for 264 yards and three TDs.
Of the five losses to non-winning teams, Smith played well enough to win in two and didn’t do enough in the others. If the rest of the team had supported him better, perhaps the Hawks would be 10-6 now.
What is Smith’s value?
Smith has shown he is a good – not great – quarterback who can lead a balanced team to wins. Other than the win over the Rams, though, he could not pull out any other wins in the clutch.
So what does that make him worth?
Statistically, he was a top-five passer (leading the NFL at 70.2%). The top nine QBs make $40 million or more per year. Smith probably will target that, especially after the poor seasons that highly paid Russell Wilson ($49M), Derek Carr ($40.5M) and Matthew Stafford ($40M) had.
The Seahawks might be willing to do a short-term deal at $35 million a year (add a couple of void years to spread out a $40 million signing bonus). But they also might not value Smith that highly, thinking Drew Lock (if re-signed) might be able to do what Smith just did, especially as they have a chance to really beef up both lines in the draft.
They also might think Smith, Carr (headed out of Vegas) and Baker Mayfield (Rams free agent) are similar players and see which one they can get at their price.
The 2023 QB market will be very interesting, with Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson, Jimmy Garoppolo and Daniel Jones also pending free agents. Among the other teams that will or might need QBs: Carolina, the Jets, New Orleans and Vegas, plus the Giants (if Jones leaves), Baltimore (if Jackson leaves) and Tampa Bay (if Brady leaves).
Six of those teams saw Smith play against them this season. If the Hawks let Smith test his market, would one of those teams be willing to pay him. And would Seattle then go for Carr or Mayfield?
Or will the Hawks be willing to pay (or tag) Smith over $30 million as they add cheap talent via four high draft picks and hope the beefed-up lines give Smith and the Hawks the oomph they need to contend in 2023?