Seahawks’ free agency preview: What Geno Smith’s new deal did for their buying power

What did Geno Smith re-signing give the Seahawks?

The return, not departure, of their Pro Bowl quarterback.

And the flexibility to buy him some help.

Now the shopping begins. Starting Monday at 9 a.m., the league began allowing agents for pending free agents to negotiate with all NFL teams. The window closes Wednesday at 1 p.m., when the league year and free agency begin.

Monday began the first, splashiest wave of free agency. Teams were already striking big deals with free agents before the market officially opens: offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey from Seattle’s NFC West-rival 49ers to Denver on a five-year, $87.5 million deal; quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from San Francisco to Las Vegas for three years and $67.5 million with $34 million guaranteed.

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Smith, 32, re-signed with the Seahawks last week. His new three-year contract has a base value of $75 million with a $26.1 million signing bonus. The deal is team-friendly. It provides Seattle salary-cap space for this year and options at quarterback and many other positions for the future.

“I believe in team,” Smith said Thursday.

His contract has a near-league-minimum base salary of a guaranteed $1.2 million this year. His a salary-cap charge is $10.1 million for 2023. He is taking up just 4.6% of the team’s cap this year.

Smith agreeing to an incentive-filled deal left the Seahawks with $20.2 million in salary-cap space for 2023, effectively $10 million counting the money they need to set aside for 10 picks in next month’s draft.

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Then Monday, Seattle saved another $8.9 million in cap charges by releasing 31-year-old defensive tackle Shelby Harris. The Seahawks inherited his contract in their trade of Russell Wilson to Denver last March.

On Friday the Seahawks announced they released veteran right guard Gabe Jackson with a year left on his contract. That move saved the team $6.5 million against the cap. It became obvious that’s what Seattle was going to do last month when it re-signed Phil Haynes to a $4 million contract for 2023. Haynes and Jackson split time as the starting right guard last season.

The team could re-negotiate or extend contracts of its other players carrying high cap charges for 2023 to create more buying power for free agency. The Seahawks could extend the deal of Uchenna Nwosu, their sack leader from last season, beyond 2023 to create a more team-friendly cap number. Friendlier than his $13.01 million for this year, the final one of his two-year contract.

Geno Smith’s contract details

Smith’s new cap number for 2023 is 19th-most among NFL quarterbacks for this year, per overthecap.com.

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Heck, Mitch Trubisky ($10,625,000) has a higher cap charge than Smith. Trubisky isn’t even starting for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Had his 2023 cap number been more in line with his 2022 play relative to the rest of the league, the Seahawks might have half the $20 million in cap space they have now.

According to a compilation by spotrac.com, Smith’s salary for 2024 of $12.7 million becomes fully guaranteed five days after the next Super Bowl. He would get a bonus of $9.6 million if he is on Seattle’s roster the fifth day of the league year in March 2024. He gets $10 million if he’s on the roster the fifth day of the 2025 league year.

His self-acknowledged bet on himself includes bonuses of $2 million each for exceeding his 2022 totals for passing yards (4,282), touchdown passes (30), completion percentage (69.8), passer rating (100.9) and team wins (nine).

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If he exceeds all five of those marks in a season, he gets an additional $5 million bonus, for a total of an additional $15 million above salary for that year.

Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) responds to the crowds chants of “Geno, Geno, Geno” as he walks off the field after Seattle beat Denver, 17-16, in an NFL game on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, at Lumen Field in Seattle.
Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) responds to the crowds chants of “Geno, Geno, Geno” as he walks off the field after Seattle beat Denver, 17-16, in an NFL game on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, at Lumen Field in Seattle.

Smith’s salary-cap charges go from $10.1 million this year to $31.2 million in 2024 and $33.7 million in 2025, the final year of the contract. If his performance dips in 2023 the Seahawks could exit the deal after the one year, early in the 2024 calendar year, at a cost of $27.5 million and a salary-cap hit of $17.4 million.

Why would they do that? If they select a top quarterback with the fifth or 20th picks Seattle owns in next month’s draft, as coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider said in the past two weeks they are considering doing.

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Smith got guaranteed $27.3 million at signing. That’s the league’s 117th-highest up-front guarantee.

Smith didn’t play like the 19th-best quarterback and 117th-best player in the NFL last season. He broke three Seahawks season passing records of his predecessor Russell Wilson. He made his first Pro Bowl of his 10-year career. He made his first postseason start, leading Seattle to where Wilson did not the previous season.

Why did he agree to the contract?

It gives him $27.3 million in guarantees. That’s $10 million more than Smith has earned, total, in guarantees, salaries and bonuses, in his first 10 NFL seasons.

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And Smith is banking on earning the incentive money and the Seahawks keeping him for all three years of the deal, pushing his earnings to approaching the maximum total value of $105 million.

“I just believe in my ability. I believe that with the guys around me, with the coaches that we have, like I said, I think the future’s very bright for us,” he said. “And so with the contracts and the incentives, it’s just a way, obviously, for both parties to make it work. It allows the team room and space to do what they need to do — but it also gives me an opportunity to be one of the top-10 paid quarterbacks, which is something that I believe I am.

“So with all those things, I think it worked out pretty great.”

What the Seahawks need to do now, this week, is buy help for the defensive front that subverted much of what Smith and the offense did in 2022.

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Possible free-agent targets

Let’s start with Seattle’s own.

The Seahawks have 29 imminent free agents. Twenty of them are unrestricted, ready to sign with any team.

The most prominent of the unrestricted free agents is defensive tackle Poona Ford. Carroll said his defense didn’t use Ford correctly last season. They played him too much outside nearer an end in the team’s new 3-4 scheme in 2022. Ford previously excelled for years over the center as a nose tackle.

If the Seahawks bring him back, it likely needs to be at less than his $10.1 million cap charge that was the team’s highest last year.

Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Poona Ford (97) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) during the fourth quarter of an NFL game on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, at Lumen Field in Seattle.
Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Poona Ford (97) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) during the fourth quarter of an NFL game on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, at Lumen Field in Seattle.

Running back Rashaad Penny’s contract has also expired. His season-ending ankle injury in October led to rookie Kenneth Walker’s 1,000-yard rushing season and seizing the lead-back role. Penny says he’s healthy again. His market is likely to be low, low enough for Seattle to re-sign for depth on a deal that is low risk and near minimum salary.

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Inside linebacker Cody Barton, a starter last season for the first time after the Seahawks released Bobby Wagner in a cap move in March 2022, is also a pending free agent.

So is 35-year-old Bruce Irvin. He said in January he may want to play again in 2023, but he wasn’t sure.

Drew Lock’s contract has ended. The 25-year-old backup to Smith last season, a former Broncos starter, told The News Tribune in January “I want to play.”

Lock’s not going to in Seattle as long as Smith remains healthy this year.

Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks Drew Lock (2) and Geno Smith (7) run onto the field before an NFL wild card playoff football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks Drew Lock (2) and Geno Smith (7) run onto the field before an NFL wild card playoff football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

The most prominent restricted free agent for Seattle is Ryan Neal, the popular and productive strong safety the last two seasons while Jamal Adams has been injured. The team could bring back Neal by giving him a tender offer for 2023. Short of re-signing him to a multiyear deal that may happen, the Seahawks could match or exceed an offer Neal might get from another team, or agree to let him go and get a draft pick in return. That last scenario is highly unlikely.

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If the first 13 offseasons of the Carroll-Schneider are any indication, the Seahawks’ outside signings will most likely be relatively conservative spending in the secondary waves of free agency.

And they are likely to target interior players, tackles and inside linebackers, and leave needed pass rushers and edge defenders to drafting with the four picks in the first 52 selections and five in the first 83 Seattle has next month.

Free-agency becomes ultra expensive for pass rushers and edge defenders, likely too expensive for the cap space Seattle has to use.

The most enticing player for the middle of the Seahawks’ defense is the best one they’ve ever had there. A league source told The News Tribune at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis two weeks ago Seattle has keen interest in bringing back Bobby Wagner for 2023. The Rams have announced they are going to officially release the six-time All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner on Wednesday.

Last week, Schneider said on KIRO-AM radio he and Carroll have been speaking to Wagner, and will continue to as free agency begins.

Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) talks with head coach Pete Carroll during a timeout just before the San Francisco 49ers fourth-and-goal play during the fourth quarter of an NFL game on Sunday at Lumen Field in Seattle.
Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) talks with head coach Pete Carroll during a timeout just before the San Francisco 49ers fourth-and-goal play during the fourth quarter of an NFL game on Sunday at Lumen Field in Seattle.

Seahawks’ unrestricted free agents

DT Poona Ford: If they put back at nose tackle, he becomes more valuable

QB Drew Lock: “I want to play.”

RB Rashaad Penny: Likely available, affordable

LB Cody Barton: Seems if they wanted him back he’d have re-signed already

DL L.J. Collier: Former first-round pick didn’t play like one

S Jonathan Abram: Need a injury hedge behind Jamal Adams

CB Artie Burns: Unused, unneeded in 2022 because of Tariq Woolen, Michael Jackson, Coby Bryant emerging

WR Marquise Goodwin: Like his speed as a third WR, but was hurt last season

C/G Kyle Fuller: Not an upgrade

RB Travis Homer: Rugged, likely to be available and affordable

LB Bruce Irvin: Deciding whether he wants to play past his 36th birthday

CB Justin Coleman: Nickel man Coby Bryant makes him expendable

LS Tyler Ott: Healthy again after season-ending injury last year

LS Carson Tinker: Signed when Ott got hurt

S Josh Jones: Poor tackling led to him getting mothballed last season

DB Teez Tabor: Utility, depth man

LB Darryl Johnson: Impressed off the edge until he got hurt. Could be a usable bargain

CB Xavier Crawford: Utility, depth man

WR Laquon Treadwell: Former Vikings 1st-round pick didn’t seize his chance as 3rd WR

LB Cullen Gillaspia: Knee injury in November sidetracked special-teams player

Seattle’s restricted free agents

S Ryan Neal: Priority

WR Penny Hart: Lost ground last season

LB Tanner Muse: Special-teams player

RB Tony Jones: Resourceful, played half of win at Rams seeing out of only one eye after losing his contact

Exclusive-rights free agents

RB/KR Godwin Igwebuike: Shined on kickoff returns late last season

LB Jon Rhattigan: Beat Navy

CB Michael Jackson: Surprise starting cornerback last season

WR Cody Thompson: injured reserve last August

DL Myles Adams: Showed promise last season