When Geno Smith arrived at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center to sign his three-year contract extension with the Seahawks, coaches and members of the personnel department came out of their offices to greet the Pro-Bowl quarterback before he entered the conference room where he would put pen to paper to make the deal official.
For the next couple minutes, Smith shared handshakes and hugs with coaches and members of the front office, hearing over and over again different versions of, "Congrats, man. I'm happy for you."
And it's hard not be happy for Smith, who on Thursday signed what is by far the biggest contract of his career following his 10th season in the league, seven of which were spent as a backup before he finally got the chance to start last season.
A second-round pick who was projected by most to be a first-rounder, Smith faced more than his share of adversity in his career leading up to a 2022 season in which he helped the Seahawks to the playoffs, earned Pro-Bowl honors and was named the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year. After starting his first two seasons for the Jets, Smith lost the job heading into his third season due to a broken jaw suffered in a locker room altercation, and he never got that starting spot back. From there he was a backup for the Jets, Giants, Chargers and Seahawks, finding himself stuck behind talented and durable quarterbacks year after year. Smith always believed in his abilities, but as the seasons as a backup stacked up, it looked like his opportunity to start once again might never come.
It finally did last season, and Smith was able to finally show what he knew all along he was capable of doing if given another shot.
"Incredible journey," Smith said Thursday, sitting between Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. "You think about the draft, I had to sit and wait. I went to the Jets and things didn't work out. Had to bounce from team to team and try to find my way.
"Then I found this place, and it kind of changed me. Coach Carroll being so uplifting, so inspiring, he just forced me to believe more in myself, and that in turn brought us here today. So that entire journey, the 10 years that it took for me to get to this point, it means a lot. That's the most rewarding part is that I was able to go through that, and then be able to say, hey, even with all of that, I was still able to get better and still become a better player, and to get to this point is just incredibly fulfilling."
As he kicked off the press conference, Schneider turned to his team's quarterback and said, "What an inspiration you've been to men, women, young, old, all around the country. Lessons about faith, perseverance, work ethic, being a good person, man. Watching you last year was awesome."
In his opening remarks, Carroll called it "a great, great day for us. Geno and all of us have had so much fun getting to this point. There's a lot of years when Geno had to sit there waiting, and the story that has been unveiled about believing in yourself and confidence and trust and never given up, it's just a vivid illustration for G, and it has been so much fun to see this happen. He always knew; we just have to let it out."
For Smith, being fulfilled does not, however, mean being complacent. As impressive as he was in 2022 on his way to Pro Bowl and Comeback Player of the Year honors, Smith expects to only get better in 2023 and beyond.
"I was throwing yesterday, and shoot, the ball was coming out pretty good," Smith said with a big grin. "… I believe that, although we did some great things last year, the sky's the limit for what we can do this year. I think we can improve in so many ways, and that's really what I look forward to. That's all my offseason is about—improving and becoming a better player."
As Smith noted, his career of bouncing around the NFL means he has not been in the same offensive system for three straight seasons, as will be the case this season, dating back to his high school days.
"It's going to be new for me to see what that's like," he said. "I'm excited about it. Having a year of playing and tape to learn from and being able to learn from my past mistakes, I think it will make me better in the long run."
Said Carroll, "He's been in the system and with us for a good while, and that's why he was so accomplished when he got his opportunity. But there's nothing like that playtime that he just had. There's nothing like coming back with DK and Tyler and the fellas, the tight ends and running backs to put this thing together to the next level that's out there for us. So it's all just ahead of us and the cool thing, you can hear it, it's about working hard. Without the hard work and the dedication and the trust in the people around you, it isn't going to happen, but we got all that. So that's why we're so positive about it, so that's why we know we're going places."
For the Seahawks and Smith, the goal, which they achieved this week, was to get a deal done before Smith could become a free agent. For the Seahawks, the value of that, in addition to retaining an elite quarterback, comes in knowing before the start of free agency where things stand at that position and from a salary cap standpoint. And for Smith, the desire to secure his future was more important than testing his value on the open market.
"I wanted to stay here," he said. "I was hoping we could get something done quickly. I didn't want to have to test the free agent market. Obviously if I had to then I had to, but I think everyone did a great job at making this work, and now it's about having it pay off in the future.
"I've always felt respected in this organization, I think they do a great job. Coach Carroll does a great job at relating to all the players. Not just the star players or the guys drafted, every single player on the roster, he has a relationship with. He respects them and they respect him. I've always felt that, and now I'm just happy to get this past us."
Smith's three-year extension will pay him handsomely regardless of what happens moving forward, but he and the team also tied in a significant amount of money in incentives. As someone who has had to prove himself over and over again, Smith doesn't mind betting on himself, and he was willing to do a deal like that versus trying to squeeze every penny out of the deal because he knows it will help the Seahawks field a better team around him.
"With the contract and the incentives, it's just a way for both parties to make it work," he said. "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."
Smith later called it "extremely important" to try to find the balance between getting what he deserves and also leaving the team flexibility for other moves.
"I believe in team," he said. "I know how important it is for everyone to have an opportunity. I trust these guys. I understand that these guys are building a championship team, and that's what we're about here. I really wanted to be a part of that and I'm just happy that we were able to find common ground that was balanced and worked for everyone."
Said Schneider, "Everything we're doing here is to try to maximize your value, but we're also trying to put together a consistent championship-caliber team, so there's a balance that goes into that. And I have to give (Smith's agents) Chafie (Fields) and Kevin (Krajcovic) a ton of credit for being creative, being open minded, understanding what we all wanted to accomplish and that was maximizing Geno's earning potential and recognizing everything that he's done and where he can go—as well as trying to help him be a championship quarterback."
While re-signing Smith secures the Seahawks' immediate future at quarterback, Carroll and Schneider have maintained throughout the offseason that the Seahawks would still consider a quarterback in the first round, perhaps even as early as their No. 5 overall pick. That's not a reflection of their opinion of Smith, but rather the rare opportunity the Seahawks have with two first-round picks, including one as high as the No. 5 pick they got from Denver.
For his part, Smith said he would welcome both the competition and the opportunity to mentor a young quarterback should the Seahawks go that route.
"I'd say it's both," he said. "I love to compete, so I'll compete with anybody, but I'm also going to help them out as much as I can, the same as we did with Drew (Lock). Our QB room is so tight-knit and we're all so connected that we act as one. So whether it's a young guy or someone else, I want to help that player just like any other player on our team, be the best that he can be. Because that's my job as a leader, and that's who I am at heart. You know, I'm never going to withhold information. I'm always going to try and help guys get better. And so that's what I want to do, and if that happens then that's the guy I'll be."
And why wouldn't Smith be confident that he could compete and come out on top regardless of what the Seahawks do in April? For the better part of a decade, Smith had to bide his time as a backup, waiting for his opportunity to even compete for a starting job, and once it got it, he won the job, helped lead his team to the playoffs, earned Pro-Bowl honors, broke multiple franchise records and was named Comeback Player of the Year, all of which led to Thursday, with Smith sitting between his head coach and general manager shortly after signing a lucrative contract extension.
"I had no doubts, honestly," Smith said when asked if he doubted this moment would ever come for him. "I mean, I just kept working, man. And I would always tell myself, 'Hey, man, if I never got the opportunity, at least I worked for it. At least I put everything I had, and I can leave this game with no regrets.' I think God kind of shined down on me. He saw me working and gave me opportunity.
"Hopefully it's an inspiration to everyone just to continue to believe in yourself, to work hard, to never waver in your confidence, and then to be opportunistic. When you get an opportunity, you've got to run with it. So hopefully everyone can see that when they see me."
Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith officially put pen to paper on a three-year contract extension at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash. on March 9, 2023.