Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks create competition for spot they never intend to use: Russell Wilson backup

The Seahawks are apparently creating competition at a position they never intend to use:

Russell Wilson’s backup.

Seattle is hosting Geno Smith for a visit Wednesday “and is expected to sign” the former New York Jets starting quarterback to a free-agent contract, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.

Smith, 28, was the Jets’ second-round draft choice in 2013. He started 29 games for New York his first two seasons in the NFL. Then teammate IK Enemkpali broke Smith’s jaw with a punch in fight during Jets training camp in 2015.

That pretty much KO’d Smith’s time as a starter in the league.

Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Smith in New York. Whe the Jets briefly benched Fitzpatrick in 2016, Smith replaced him--but lasted just into the second quarter of his only start that season. Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in that game. He was out for that season.

He signed with the Giants for 2017 and started one game for benched Eli Manning. Last season Smith was Philip Rivers’ backup with the Chargers. He appeared five times mopping up games for a playoff team.

Seattle would be Smith’s fourth team in four years.

The Seahawks have Paxton Lynch, Denver’s failed former first-round pick, as their only other quarterback currently on the roster behind Wilson.

Monday Seattle waived Taryn Christion, an undrafted rookie the team had signed last month as a free agent. Christion threw the ball all over the fields in Seattle’s rookie minicamp two weeks ago.

Here’s the thing with the Smith situation: if the Seahawks have their way in 2019—plus in 2020, ‘21 and beyond—the barista at the local coffee shop could be their backup for Wilson.

Wilson just got an NFL-record $140 million contract extension. It keeps him obligated to Seattle through the 2023 season, when he will be 35 years old.

He was the only quarterback in the league last season to take every snap for his team. He has yet to miss a practice, let alone a game, during his seven NFL seasons as the Seahawks’ starter.

But what if...?

The Seahawks got to see a glimpse of “what if” in September 2016. And it spooked them.

Wilson got a high-ankle sprain from getting stepped on by Miami’s Ndamukong Suh in that season’s opener. Then in the third game of that season Wilson sprained his knee. Doctors told him he should miss four weeks. Trevone Boykin, whom the Seahawks had signed as an undrafted rookie, entered for the injured Wilson in that blowout win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 25, 2015, and threw his first career touchdown pass.

It was the first time in his five seasons Wilson had missed even a play. The only reason Boykin didn’t have to start the next couple games was Wilson flew his physical therapist and others in from California to stay with him at his house and wake him hourly every night, to keep the knee from swelling and for around-the-clock rehabilitation.

“He even gets treatment during meetings,” teammate and linebacker Bobby Wagner marveled at the time.

It worked. Wilson still hasn’t missed a game.

But those two injuries showed Wilson wasn’t indestructible; he only seemed to be. They made Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider appreciate the value of having a quarterback who has started NFL games, who has gone through weeks of preparation as the starter, to be available to play in the event Wilson actually, finally, can’t. They saw the value of not having an undrafted rookie as their only option if Wilson goes down.

Boykin is out of the league, beset by legal problems of his own making. Since the Seahawks released him they’ve traded for former Green Bay Packers’ fill-in starter Brett Hundley. Hundley was Wilson’s peace-of-mind backup last season. He never got in a game before his contract ended. He signed this offseason with Arizona. That gave Seattle a compensatory draft choice in 2020, effectively replacing the seventh-round pick this year the Seahawks gave to the Packers to get Hundley.

Of course, if Wilson goes down it doesn’t matter who is the backup; the Seahawks’ season would be in utter disarray. That could be said for almost every NFL team, but especially Seattle’s that relies so heavily on Wilson’s running, throwing and improvisation.

Meanwhile, Smith will apparently join Lynch this summer in the competition...for the spot the Seahawks again do not plan on using.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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