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Seattle Seahawks

Analysis: Explaining the Seahawks’ franchise tag options for Geno Smith

Getty Images Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith prepares for a first-quarter snap against the New York Jets at Lumen Field in Seattle.  (Getty Images)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – One key NFL offseason date arrived Tuesday – the beginning of a 15-day period when teams can place franchise tags on players.

That’s especially worth watching for the Seahawks this year because of the uncertainty surrounding quarterback Geno Smith, who can become an unrestricted free agent March 15.

But the real key date to watch when it comes to the tag is March 7, which is the deadline for the tag to be used (technically, at 1 p.m. PT).

Teams rarely use the tag until the last minute, as it tends to be a last-resort type for both the team and player, who usually spend that time trying to negotiate a multiyear contract. Of the eight tags used last year, none was applied until the day before the deadline.

So, consider Tuesday just the beginning of what could be a waiting period to see whether Seattle uses one of its options to essentially avoid Smith hitting free agency (more on that in a moment).

The other device, of course, is simply signing Smith to a new contract before the free-agency period hits as teams can sign their own free agents at any time.

And that could well happen.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider said during his weekly appearance on Seattle Sports 710-AM last Thursday that the two sides have had “good talks so far” and that “we’re in it. We’re just trying to figure out what’s best, and we’ll do what’s right.”

As a reminder, the tag is a device that teams can use on one potential free agent a year.

There are three types of tags – exclusive, nonexclusive and transition.

All bind players to the team for one year at a predetermined salary and give the tagging team a right of first refusal and/or compensation if the player signs with another team.

Smith is regarded as the only player Seattle would consider tagging this year.

And the only two tags that would seem to make sense are the nonexclusive tag or the transition tag.

Under the nonexclusive tag, a player gets what is an average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the past five years or 120% of his previous salary, whichever is greater. For quarterbacks, this year’s tag value is projected at $32.4 million.

If Smith were given this tag, he could continue to talk to other teams, but the Seahawks could match any offer or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if he signed elsewhere, which would seem extremely unlikely.

Some have speculated Seattle could also use the transition tag on Smith. That tag is a one-year deal for the average of the top 10 players at quarterback and give the Seahawks the right to match any offer, but it does not offer any compensation if they chose not to match and Smith signed elsewhere. The projected salary of the transition tag is $29.5 million.

But a team using the tag hardly stops the process.

At that point, teams have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal with a player if given the nonexclusive tag, the most likely scenario that most see for Seattle and Smith if the Seahawks were to use it.

If no deal is reached, then the player would have to play on the tag (or, just sit out, as Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell did in 2018, though that didn’t work out so well).

Teams also can rescind the tag before a player signs it.

Or, as the Seahawks did in 2019 when they last used a tag on Frank Clark, they can trade a player on a tag.

Since all of the salary on the tag has to go on that year’s salary cap, though, teams generally try to avoid having a player actually play the season on it. And as noted, players usually prefer a multiyear deal.

Of the eight tags used last year, four players later signed multiyear contracts, with just four playing on the tag.

None was a quarterback, however, which is obviously the most expensive position each year. The last QB to play on the tag was Dallas’ Dak Prescott in 2020 at $31.4 million.

Seattle has tagged only two players since the arrival of coach Pete Carroll and Schneider in 2010 – Clark in 2019 and kicker Olindo Mare in 2010. Mare played on the tag and became a free agent at the end of the season.

But as noted, the large cap hit incurred makes the tag something teams try to avoid – if Smith were to be tagged at $32.4 million that would be the largest cap hit in terms of dollars in team history (Russell Wilson had a $32 million cap hit in 2021), though since the cap has gone up it would not take up as much of a percentage of the cap. Wilson’s 2021 cap hit was 17.5% of Seattle’s total cap. If Smith was tagged it would be roughly 14.4% of the total cap since the cap has gone up from $182.5 million to $224.8 million in that time.

More relevant might be that the tag number can serve as something of a starting point for negotiations.

In Smith’s case, many have speculated what he would want is a multiyear deal that might at least guarantee him the tag number for this year and next (or a projection of what it might be) spread out over three years.

That is pretty much what Pro Football Focus speculated in its latest guess at what Smith could command on the free-agent market – a three-year deal worth up to $105 million overall with $72.5 million guaranteed.

But just what Smith’s value really is could become clearer next week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, with team execs and agents all gathering in one spot and talks and rumors flowing freely.

Not that they aren’t already.

The departure of Seahawks QB coach Dave Canales last week to Tampa Bay helped lead to some speculation that maybe the Bucs – who need a quarterback now with Tom Brady retired – could make a run at Smith (head coach Todd Bowles also was Smith’s coach his final two years with the Jets).

That speculation might ramp up even more after Smith took to Twitter Tuesday to reveal that a good friend – Thaddeus Lewis – had been promoted by Tampa Bay from assistant wide receivers coach to QB coach (both grew up in the Miami area).

But Smith tweeted not to read anything into it.

“Nothing interesting about it besides my real friend getting a job he’s been working for and me being proud of him,’’ Smith responded in a follow-up tweet after he initially broke the news of Lewis, which was quickly confirmed by others.

Answers to the questions on Smith’s future, though, should be coming soon, if just not quite yet.