Geno Smith wasn’t guaranteed much when he signed a one-year contract with the New York Giants on Monday. The money was (in football terms) minimal and he isn’t assured a spot on the roster or depth chart this season.
Smith, a former starting quarterback for the New York Jets, is going to have to earn his spot. And he's going to have to do it with a knee he's still rehabbing after tearing his ACL last season.
The Giants set it up so they aren’t married to Smith, even as the backup to starter Eli Manning for the 2017 season. He will be competing with veteran Josh Johnson, Keith Wenning and potentially even a draft pick.
The way the contract was structured, Smith was only fully guaranteed $100,000 of his base salary for 2017, sources told ESPN. He also earns a $200,000 roster bonus on March 22 and a $25,000 workout bonus this spring, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.
Smith's total compensation package maxes out at $2 million.
The real Geno Smith contract details:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 22, 2017
Playtime incentives: $800k
Per-game roster bonuses: $12.5k
Max value: $2M
The final piece of the puzzle for Geno (bringing the max value to $2M) is a $200k roster bonus. He gets that today. https://t.co/Kcot84IDBT— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 22, 2017
It all shakes out to Johnson having the same chances -- maybe better -- to be the backup quarterback than Smith. He's healthy and knows the offense; Smith is entering a new situation while still working to get his knee cleared for football. That could come this spring, prior to training camp or sometime later this summer, all of which puts Smith at a disadvantage.
If the Giants don’t like what they see at any point, they can get out of the deal for $325,000.
That’s a hit they’re probably willing to take, if it doesn’t work out. The Giants guaranteed Jasper Brinkley $1.7 million last season and were willing to move on prior to the start of the season when they coincidentally added Johnson. Surely they can absorb $325,000 if Johnson proves to be the better option and there is a rookie draft pick who also needs a spot on the roster.
The situation is reminiscent of the 2014 season, when the Giants signed Josh Freeman, a quarterback who experienced more success as a starter than Smith. When the coaching staff and front office realized it wouldn't work out with Freeman, they quickly cut bait.
The Giants will likely have more patience with Smith, but they are still taking a low-risk flier on a talented quarterback with a strong arm who is returning from a serious knee injury. They’re going to throw that into the mix -- whenever he's physically cleared -- and seeing how it comes out.
“Geno has a great, positive attitude, and he’s looking forward to learning and competing in our QB room,” general manager Jerry Reese said in a press release after Smith’s signing.
Smith, 26, is looking to resurrect his career with the Giants, even if he doesn’t do it on the field. He seems to be approaching it as an opportunity to learn and grow behind a respected veteran such as Manning. That might be necessary after his rocky and tumultuous tenure with the Jets.
He’ll likely do it without playing in meaningful games. Manning hasn’t missed a start since becoming the starter during the 2004 regular season.
“We expect that to continue,” Smith said in a press release after signing. “I’m not coming aboard expecting anything else. This is definitely an opportunity for me to learn and to get better.
“I want to carry my notepad around and whatever I see Eli doing, whether it’s in the classroom, on the field or off the field, I want to write it down. Because he’s a guy you can model yourself after. If you learn from a guy like that, we can all do a lot better.”
That probably had a lot to do with him taking this deal from the Giants, who were his first known visit.