Cap situation makes franchise tag for Geno Smith unlikely

While the franchise tag seems like an easy fallback option for the Seahawks to retain Geno Smith, a close look at their salary cap situation reveals that they probably are not going to use it – or, if they do, it won’t be for long.

If they do not use it by the March 7 deadline, they would have until March 13, when free agency discussions with other teams can begin, to get a deal with Smith.  

Here’s why.

The Hawks are projected to have about $18 million for veterans at this point. Yes, OverTheCap lists it at $34 million (with four open roster spots), but $10 million has to be earmarked for a premium-pick rookie class and around $6 million will be reserved for the season (practice squad and injuries).

The Hawks can bump their free agent cap space as high as $41 million if they cut overpaid Shelby Harris, Gabe Jackson, Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods.

But tagging Smith would eat up a projected $32 million, leaving just $9 million in this scenario. RFA Ryan Neal likely will get the $4.3 million second-round tender, which would cut that space to $5 million.

John Schneider never spends heavily in free agency, but even $5 million is far from enough to replenish Seattle’s lines with vets and add some linebackers.

This is why it is not a foregone conclusion that the Hawks would use the tag on Smith. They certainly are hoping to strike a deal before free agency and preserve a good $20 million to fill out the roster.

“There’s a balance when building a team, and Geno knows that,” Schneider told Seattle Sports Radio last week. “He’s been to a number of different teams, and he’s seen it firsthand. He understands the process. We’ve had clear communication with his agency and Geno himself. He knows where we stand.”

It sounds like Smith might not play hardball — i.e., asking for $35 million or more. After the playoff loss to the 49ers, he said he felt like he owed the franchise for its loyalty to him.

“I want to finish my career in Seattle,” he said. “I want to be here. The town, the city, the team, Coach Carroll, the organization — they all embraced me. … I’ve got a lot of loyalty in me, and I want to repay those guys for doing that.”

Of course, Smith previously had mentioned that business is business, so it’s not like he is going to settle for a steep discount if he feels another team might pony up.

“Football is a business,” he said after the Hawks beat the Rams in Week 18. “A lot of people have a lot of decisions to make. … I feel great about where I stand with this organization and my teammates and everybody else, but it’s always a business first.”

So, what would good business be for Smith and Seattle? Something like a three-year deal averaging around $30 million seems fair. Seattle might be aiming for more like $25 million, with the argument being that Smith has played just one good season and also will be starting this new deal nearly at age 33. So maybe it starts at $25 million, with incentives possibly bumping it past $30 million.

Assuming they aren’t far apart in value, this deal should get done ahead of the March 7 tag deadline. If they are too far apart, the Hawks seem likely to just let Smith test the market rather than using the tag and tying up money they need for other positions.

Carroll hinted that they are not afraid to do that, saying “our system is good” and referencing his faith in Drew Lock as well. “We never got a chance to see Drew, but I’ve seen a lot of him, and I like what he does, too.”

The No. 5 pick in the draft also is a fallback option. Said Carroll: “The quarterbacks in this draft are extraordinary players, and you don’t get opportunities like this, so we have to be – we are – really tuned in to all of those options.”

But the bet here is that Smith and the Seahawks iron out the details and have a deal before the tag even becomes a question. We’ll know by March 7.

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