At 32 Seahawks’ Geno Smith wants to play past 40. Only 9 NFL QBs have. Why he’s suited to
The difference was obvious from the first steps he made onto the practice field.
Geno Smith came out of the Seahawks’ headquarters and onto the edge of the grass field along Lake Washington not walking, like most of his teammates. He wasn’t jogging, like others were.
He was skipping.
“Hawks! Let’s go Hawks!” the quarterback said to no one in particular as he bounded out to begin the first practice of Seattle’s organized team activities (OTAs), the final, most extensive phase of official offseason workouts.
Unlike last year at this time, this undoubtedly is Smith’s offense. This is his team.
Yes, breaking four team records for passing in a season, the first Pro Bowl selection of a decade-long career, a first career postseason start — and then a new, $75 million contract in March, a first multiyear deal since a rookie contract 10 years earlier — tend to put a pep in one’s step.
After his breakout 2022 season leading Seattle to a surprise playoff berth while replacing traded Russell Wilson, after seven previous years on one-year deals as a backup bouncing around the NFL, the league’s 2022 comeback player of the year says at age 32 says “I still feel like I’m 21.”
In fact, he believes he can remain a starting quarterback past age 40 for the Seahawks, with whom he’s said he wants to retire.
“I’m going to answer that one: I do think I can play past 40,” Smith said this week.
A smile crossed his face.
“But, obviously, a lot of hard work is going to go into that.”
The over-40 QBs, all-time
Tom Brady just retired this offseason at age 45. He was the second-oldest quarterback in NFL history. Hall of Famer George Blanda retired after playing the 1975 season for the Oakland Raiders, just before his 49th birthday. He was also the Raiders’ kicker.
A total of 19 quarterbacks in league history have played past their 40th birthday. The list includes Warren Moon. The former University of Washington star played past 40, went 11-13 starting for the Seahawks in 1997 and ‘98, then played two more seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs. He retired at age 44 following the 2000 season.
Matt Hasselbeck started Seattle’s first Super Bowl at the end of the 2005 season, then played another 10 seasons. He retired at 40, following the Indianapolis Colts’ 2015 season.
If Smith plays past 40 — that is, when he’s 41 — only nine quarterbacks in league history have done that:
Blanda (48 when he last played)
Steve DeBerg (44)
Vinny Testaverde (44)
Doug Flutie (43)
Earl Morrall (42)
former UW quarterback Mark Brunell (41)
Brett Favre (41)
“I’m striving for it,” Smith said.
Geno Smith, a fresh 32
Smith turns 33 in October.
He’s had a rare career arc.
The New York Jets made the Miami native a second-round draft choice in 2013 — then made him an immediate starter. He started his first NFL game, and all 16 games his rookie season in sports’ brightest media spotlight.
He started 13 more games his second year. He went 3-10. That was the last time he had a regular starting job, until last season.
From 2015 through ‘21, Smith bounced from the Jets, to the Giants, the Los Angeles Chargers and then Seattle. He had seven consecutive one-year contracts. His salaries were at or near the league’s veteran minimum.
Over seven seasons, Smith made just five starts. Three of those were in 2021, after Wilson needed finger surgery in October of that season.
More to the point: From 2015 through ‘20, Smith was sacked just 11 times. Total, in six years. Wilson often got sacked that many times in two games during those seven seasons Smith sat.
So Smith is a supremely young, fresh 32-year-old starting quarterback.
“Going into my 11th season, obviously it’s a blessing to even do that. But you know, who knows when the clock strikes midnight, right?” Smith said. “So I cherish every single opportunity. I cherish every single practice, every single moment out here and in the classroom with my teammates.
“And so I think that’s where my perspective has changed a little bit from being from being a young guy to being an older vet. Obviously, I still feel young. But there’s some things to think about, and so I’m very excited about the future.
“I think I can do this thing for, God willing, a long time. So I just want to keep working and try and be better every day.”
Smith enters the 2023 season with 51 career starts.
Of the 19 quarterbacks in NFL history who have played past their 40th birthday, as Smith thinks he can, only two started fewer games in their first 10 seasons than Smith started in his.
Blanda had 23 starts from 1949-58 while primarily kicker and backup QB for the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Colts. Blanda didn’t become a full-time starter until the American Football League was founded. He got his chance to start with the AFL’s expansion Houston Oilers in 1960.
Vince Evans made 35 of the 39 starts of his 15-year NFL career over his first 10 seasons. That doesn’t count the two years, 1984 and ‘85, when Evans took the money and defected to the upstart USFL. He went 1-2 as a starter in his final NFL season, for the 1995 Oakland Raiders.
Vince Evans never did what Smith did for the first time for the Seahawks last season.
That is: Make the Pro Bowl, and start a playoff game, while breaking Wilson’s franchise passing records for completions (with 399), yards (4,282) and completion rate (an NFL-leading 69.76%) in 2022.
Year to year
As he left the locker room to begin OTAs this week, yet another offseason practice in 11 years of them for him, Smith turned to Holton Ahlers. The 23-year-old undrafted rookie from East Carolina signed with Seattle this month. He’s in his first NFL practices. He’s trying to make the Seahawks as their third quarterback behind Smith and 26-year-old Drew Lock.
“I told Holton today as I was walking down: ‘You’re in the NFL. How does it feel?’” Smith said.
“I wake up and it’s still a dream to me that I get to do this for a living. I’m very appreciative of that and I look forward to just coming to work and being with the guys.”
He has the security he hasn’t had for a decade. He has that new contract with the base value of $75 million. It’s life-changing in every possible way. It’s $59 million more than he’s earned up to now in his career.
After he signed the deal in March, he turned to Seahawks general manager John Schneider and said: “John, I just wanted to say thank you for just giving me chances to prove myself.
“That’s truly all I ever needed.”
Yet Smith insists his mentality, his belief nothing is guaranteed, his drive to constantly earn his job and place, hasn’t changed with his new money.
His words are those of a man who recently spent a decade chasing the job and security he cherished, yet couldn’t get.
“In my mind, no. If it is different, I just want to work hard and be better. That’s really it,” Smith said of his approach for 2023.
Was he a one-hit wonder, out of nowhere to the Pro Bowl in 2022? Or is this the beginning of a new, longer, second NFL career?
“In my mind, I keep the same mentality,” Smith said. “Drew and I and Holton, we are competing our butts off. And that’s competition every day. We’re trying to see who is the best quarterback out on the field every single time.”
NFL quarterbacks past age 40
The list of the 19 quarterbacks to play in an NFL game past the age of 40:
QB, retiring age, last team (starts in 1st 10 NFL seasons)
George Blanda, 48, 1975 Oakland Raiders (23)
Tom Brady,45, 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (117)
Steve DeBerg, 44, 1998 Atlanta Falcons (80)
Warren Moon, 44, 2000 Kansas City Chiefs (139)
Vinny Testaverde, 44, 2007 Carolina Panthers (119)
Doug Flutie, 43, 2005 New England Patriots (56)
Earl Morrall, 42, 1976 Miami Dolphins (57)
Mark Brunell, 41, 2011 New York Jets (117)
Brett Favre, 41, 2010 Minnesota Vikings (141)
Charlie Conerly, 40, 1961 New York Giants (79)
Len Dawson, 40, 1975 Kansas City Chiefs (69)
Vince Evans, 40, 1995 Oakland Raiders (35)
Joe Ferguson, 40, 1990 Indianapolis Colts (136)
Jim Hart, 40, 1984, Washington Redskins (97)
Matt Hasselbeck, 40, 2015 Indianapolis Colts (103)
Brad Johnson, 40, 2008 Dallas Cowboys (95)
Sonny Jurgensen, 40, 1974 Washington Redskins (80)
Dave Krieg, 40, 1996 Tennessee Oilers (94)
Johnny Unitas, 40, 1973 San Diego Chargers (119)
(Wade Wilson was on the 1999 Oakland Raiders at age 40 but did not play in a game)
Sources: Pro Football Reference, the NFL, The News Tribune research