SEATTLE -- After the Seahawks kept their playoff hopes alive with an overtime win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18, none of them followed the Sunday night game with more on the line than Geno Smith.
The quarterback had a $1 million contract incentive riding on the Seahawks making the postseason. He earned it when the Detroit Lions upset the Green Bay Packers, securing Seattle's spot as the seventh seed in the NFC.
Saturday's wild-card matchup against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium gives Smith a chance to add some playoff production to his résumé ahead of the much bigger payday that awaits him this offseason as a pending free agent -- whether his next contract comes from the Seahawks or someone else.
Typically, there isn't much of a question about a quarterback's future with his team when he makes the Pro Bowl and the playoffs in the same season as Smith has done, but this situation isn't that straightforward.
Consider where each side will be coming from.
Smith, who went from backup for the past seven years to breakthrough starter in 2022, just set several single-season franchise passing records. Even with some shaky performances down the stretch, he's easily been one of the NFL's 10 best quarterbacks based on any relevant metric. He's also been the most underpaid, playing on a one-year deal that carries a base value of $3.5 million.
Smith has yet to cash in with a big contract over his first 10 NFL seasons and has finally positioned himself to do so, which may tempt him to test free agency.
"I'm focused on football right now, but the thing is, it's a business," Smith said Sunday when asked if he wants to hit the market. "Football is a business. A lot of people have a lot of decisions to make, and that's where I'll leave it at. I feel great about where I stand with this organization and my teammates and everybody else, but it's always a business first. So I look at it like that. I understand that, and I've got to handle my business as well."
The Seahawks, meanwhile, no doubt want to re-sign their Pro Bowl quarterback, but they have an offensive system they believe to be QB-friendly. They also believe there are potentially viable alternatives on more affordable contracts should Smith's asking price get too high for their liking.
The Russell Wilson trade has set them up with a boatload of draft capital, including the fifth overall pick and three of the top 40 selections. It also brought back Drew Lock, who was widely presumed to be their starter in 2022 before Smith beat him out. The Seahawks viewed the 26-year-old Lock as a key piece of the Wilson trade and still believe he's a starting-caliber quarterback, though he's set to become a free agent like Smith.
No wonder Carroll's response was laced with uncertainty when he was asked Sunday how Smith's play impacts his view of the Seahawks' quarterback situation going forward. It also included a clear implication that Smith's success -- going from a longtime backup to a Pro Bowler -- shows how the Seahawks' scheme and coaching can put quarterbacks in position to thrive. In their eyes, the same thinking could help explain how Wilson has floundered in his debut season with Denver after putting together a Hall of Fame résumé over his decade in Seattle.
"Well, we've work to do," Carroll said, referring to how both Smith and Lock are on expiring contracts, "but our system is really good. The system is really good, what we're asking these guys to do."
Smith put together one of the best passing seasons in Seahawks history. He set the franchise records for completions (399), yards (4,282) and completion rate (69.8%), topping marks that Wilson set during 16-game seasons. With 30 touchdown passes, he joined Wilson and Dave Krieg as the only Seahawks quarterbacks to reach that mark.
But the mostly excellent play that defined Smith's first three months have given way to some uneven performances of late, with Smith at one point admitting that he was being too aggressive. He's thrown eight touchdowns and five interceptions over the past five weeks, including two picks -- and nearly a third -- on Sunday against the Rams.
Still, Smith rallied the Seahawks in the second half with a picturesque touchdown pass and two late field-goal drives, including the game winner in overtime. He also drove Seattle into field goal range for what would have been the game winner at the end of regulation had Jason Myers not missed from 46 yards out.
Even with his recent dip in production, Smith finished the regular season ranked sixth in Total QBR (61.1), first in completion rate, eighth in passing yards and 10th in touchdown-to-interception ratio (30-11). He's been the league's most accurate quarterback based on completion percentage above expectation and adjusted completion rate, and he's proved to be an effective runner as well, ranking eighth among QBs in rushing yards (366). He was the only quarterback to play every one of his team's offensive snaps this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"I think obviously I've done some things that are really good, and then knowing myself, whenever the offseason does come -- hopefully, a long time from now -- but I'm going to be super hard on myself for some of the decisions I made and the things that I did that weren't great," Smith said. "So obviously it's good to lead the team and play 17 games. That was my main goal is to lead these guys and to play 17 games. I knew what I could do on the field, but I know I can be better as well. So that's what I'm focused on right now."
The $3.5 million base value of Smith's contract put him in a tie with backups Joe Flacco and Case Keenum for 36th-highest among quarterbacks based on per-year average, according to OverTheCap.com. Smith earned another $3.5 million through incentives -- the max his contract included -- by making the Pro Bowl and throwing at least 20 touchdown passes ($500,000), throwing for at least 4,000 yards ($1 million) and playing at least 85% of the offensive snaps while also making the playoffs ($2 million).
Including those incentives, Spotrac.com lists Smith's career earnings over 10 seasons at around $17.5 million, not much by quarterback standards.
"I mean, he better come back," receiver Tyler Lockett said Sunday when asked about Smith's uncertain future. "Obviously, I want the best for him. ... But he's played phenomenal. He's put himself in a great position. I'm just grateful that he got his opportunity. He took advantage of it. He's been paying great. He was able to go out there and he broke some records today. It's just great for him, man. He's a great person, great dude."
Now, Smith gets one more chance to showcase himself, though it won't be easy against the 49ers and a No. 1-ranked defense that smothered him in both of San Francisco's wins over the Seahawks this season.
Smith and Seattle's offense were held without a touchdown in Week 2 at Levi's Stadium, but Carroll saw enough in that game and in the opener to start cutting Smith loose, setting the wheels in motion for his breakout and the payday that will follow.
It's just a question of whether the Seahawks or another team will give it to him.
"I think our quarterback position is great, " Carroll said, marveling at Smith's completion rate and playmaking this season. "But he's going to be a free agent, so we have work to do. We never got a chance to see Drew, but I've seen a lot of him, and I like what he does too. So I think our quarterback situation, if we can get them signed, is a great situation going forward. We know what we've got."