The Seahawks officially signed Geno Smith on Wednesday setting in place one of the more intriguing — if, hopefully, ultimately meaningless — position battles for Seattle in 2019.
Smith, a 2013 second-round choice taken 39th overall and once regarded as the Jets’ quarterback of the present and future, now joins Paxton Lynch, a 2016 first-round choice taken 26th overall and once regarded as the quarterback of the present and future for the Denver Broncos, to compete to serve as Russell Wilson’s backup.
Seattle, of course, hopes it never has to use a backup quarterback, as it hasn’t had to for basically all of Wilson’s career.
Wilson has missed two plays in his seven-year Seattle career for reasons other than being taken out of blowouts — one against the 49ers in 2016 when he hurt his ankle following a horse-tackle by Eli Harrold and left for a play to have it retaped and tended to, and another in 2017 when he had to go to the sideline for a play against Arizona after taking a hard shot to the head.
Otherwise, Wilson has been available for basically every snap of every game and practice since being drafted in 2012.
Wilson’s durability — also now coupled with a contract making him the highest-paid player in NFL history — means the Seahawks are never going to want to invest much in a backup quarterback.
But the 2016 season, when Wilson had to hobble through ankle, knee and pectoral injuries, also reinforced the value in having the best backup possible, which led to the brief dalliance with Colin Kaepernick the following year.
Seattle had a stable backup situation from 2013-15 with Tarvaris Jackson, the starter in 2011 who returned after spending 2012 in Buffalo, content enough at the time to come back in a role as Wilson’s backup.
Jackson never had to play a meaningful snap (though he did earn a rep for being part of a few overtime coin tosses that went the Seahawks’ way, even if on a few he didn’t actually do anything other than stand there).
Seattle’s backups since then have been Trevone Boykin in 2016, Austin Davis in 2017 and Brett Hundley in 2018.
Seattle had high hopes for Boykin after a stellar career at TCU, but then some legal trouble that is thought to have led to him going undrafted and the Seahawks thinking they got a little of a steal in being able to get him without spending a whole lot. But he was spotty when he did play and then ran into more legal issues and was waived in 2018.
Davis was a veteran stopgap for a year, trusted enough that he is now on the coaching staff as an offensive assistant, but never regarded as a long-term answer.
In 2018 the Seahawks tried what makes the most sense for a team in their position — taking a young player late in the draft and hoping for the best.
But seventh-round pick Alex McGough was deemed not ready for the job yet and when Seattle had a chance to get Hundley (who was going to be released but whom the Seahawks figured would get claimed) they traded a sixth-round pick for him to Green Bay.
They also then kept McGough on the practice squad, and Seattle’s thought is that at least one or the other would be retained in 2019.
But both left for teams that offered better chances to play (McGough to Jacksonville and Hundley to Arizona), with each also getting contracts that Seattle likely didn’t want to pay — Hundley got a $600,000 bonus and has a cap hit of $1.875 million, far more than the Seahawks would have wanted for a backup, and McGough got a $75,000 bonus.
Lynch, by contrast, signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum of $645,000 with no bonus or guaranteed money.
Smith is also expected to sign a one-year contract. No other terms are yet available, but if there is any guaranteed money then you know the team is thinking Smith has a really good chance to win the job.
Coach Pete Carroll spoke enthusiastically of Lynch at the NFL draft saying at the time that “we’re excited about the quarterback position with a little help from Paxton. He looks like he’s going to give us an exciting choice there. We’ll see how he develops.’’
Seattle’s apparent plan was Lynch to battle an undrafted free agent for the job, with the Seahawks signing Taryn Christion of South Dakota State after the draft. But Christion struggled during the three-day minicamp, compelling Seattle to explore more options.
Whether signing Smith says anything about what it thinks about Lynch is hard to know — while no backup is going to be a sure thing and any will be a huge dropoff from Wilson, Smith at least has much more of a background to go on, having been the Jets’ primary starter in 2013 and 2014, with 29 starts in those two seasons, and helping lead the Jets to an 8-8 record as a rookie in 2013.
Lynch, by contrast, has started just four games — two each in 2016 and 2017 — going 1-3 overall.
And each offers at least one thing Wilson doesn’t — height.
Lynch is listed by the Seahawks at 6-7, 244 while Smith is listed by Pro Football Reference at 6-3, 221.
Neither will be Seattle’s QB of the future, their hoped-for role with the first team that draft them.
And only one will even be Seattle’s backup in 2019 — the Seahawks won’t keep both on the active roster, though Lynch appears to have practice squad eligibility, so maybe that’s something the Seahawks have in mind.