Q&A series: We take a look at some big questions about the Seahawks’ salary cap situation and roster.
Today’s question: Instead of paying big money to Geno Smith, should the Seahawks draft a QB or go with Drew Lock and use cap space on other positions?
There remains a subset of fans and media who think the formula for winning the Super Bowl is a quarterback on a rookie contract and a team built around that player.
The main data point for their argument is the fact that no team has won a Super Bowl with a QB who has taken up more than 13.1% of the team’s salary cap. Russell Wilson, a former third-round pick with a cap hit of $681,000 when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, is the bellwether for that theory.
The fact is that, in the salary cap era (1994 to now), 75% of the time the Super Bowl-winning QB has been in the top three in team cap percentage, according to a 2022 study by Bookies.com. Three QBs on rookie deals have won it in the past 11 years, but most of the winners fell in the range of 10.6% to 12.3% of team cap.
In other words, there is no rhyme or reason to the trend.
If the Chiefs beat the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, Patrick Mahomes will become the first QB over 13.1% (Steve Young in 1994) to win it. Mahomes took up 17.2% of the Chiefs’ cap this season.
Smith a better deal than fifth pick
Some Seahawks fans want the team to use the No. 5 pick on a QB – go young and “cheap” while using cap space to build the rest of the roster around that passer.
One thing fans should understand: The fifth pick would barely be cheaper than Geno Smith in 2023. The fifth pick brings a cap number of about $6 million. On a new contract, Smith’s cap hit might be as low as $7 million – 3.1% of Seattle’s $226.4 million salary cap (that figure includes $1.6 million in carryover from 2022).
The difference, of course, comes in later years. The draft pick’s cap hits in 2024-26 would be approximately $8 million, $9 million and $11 million. If Smith signed a three-year, $90 million deal with two void years, his cap hits in 2024-27 might be $35 million, $36 million, $6 million and $6 million.
In 2024 and 2025, Smith would take up a projected 13.7% and 12.8% of the team cap. That’s reasonable – especially when you consider the whimsical nature of the draft.
Over the last 10 years, QBs drafted in the top 10 have no better than a 50% success rate: Six franchise passers, six busts, seven who have not yet showed which they will be or who had mixed success (average starters or now journeymen).
A year ago, we all thought a QB with the fifth pick would be a no-brainer for Seattle. But then Smith put up a Pro Bowl season and changed the entire franchise outlook.
Smith went 9-8, but so much of the failure was based on a defense that could not stop the run and an interior offensive line that often could not block well enough for Smith or his running backs.
As we have said, you can bet Pete Carroll is not interested in entrusting his final few years to a rookie QB. He wants to fix his defense and contend now. If Smith re-signs and the draft is used largely to help create a more dynamic defense, Carroll should get his wish.
Smith deal ‘looking very good’
A new contract for the resurgent Smith might be coming very soon – no later than the March 7 franchise tag deadline.
At the Pro Bowl, Smith told SiriusXM NFL Radio: “We’ve had talks. We’re in the process of getting all that settled right now. It’s looking very good. We think we can get some things done. But obviously these things take time.”
Regarding his value, Smith told “The Pivot” YouTube podcast: “You just want to be respected. Your contract (should) say, ‘We respect you. We understand what you bring to the table. We understand the caliber of player you are and we appreciate you.’ And that’s really what it all comes down to.”
John Schneider has made it clear he has a cap on what he will pay a QB. “There’s a balance when building a team, and Geno knows that,” Schneider told Seattle Sports Radio in January.
Smith probably will get something like that deal we mentioned above, averaging $30 million or so (maybe with team incentives that could boost it closer to $35 million). That would put him among the top 10-13 NFL quarterbacks right now (the top nine are at $40 million, and Smith will not get that).
In 2023, Smith would be a better bargain than a rookie – a Pro Bowl QB with a cap hit barely above that of a raw No. 5 pick.
Yeah, the differential will grow in 2024, but fans probably should get comfortable with the idea that the Hawks are OK with that.