Geno Smith has shown that he should be a top priority for the Seahawks in the offseason

Quandre Diggs planned to have a nice meal of steak and lobster. Geno Smith headed out on a date night. Tyler Lockett was undecided if he would watch the fateful game on television or merely follow it on his phone. And Pete Carroll said he and his staff were going to have a viewing party of sorts back at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center and cheer like crazy for the Detroit Lions.

For the Seahawks, the regular season ended with a bang – and then an interminable wait of immense tension. Once Jason Myers made his game-winning 32-yard field goal to clinch their 19-16 overtime victory over the Rams on Sunday, the Seahawks officially lost control of their playoff future.

The wait was worth it. In all the various locales where they fretted out the Lions-Packers game, elation prevailed, as Detroit stunned Green Bay to slide Seattle into the playoffs. A season that began with the meagerest of outside expectations ended with one of the most unexpected and rousing – albeit slightly delayed – celebrations in franchise history.

The state of limbo that existed, when for three or so hours their fate lay in the hands of the Lions, crystallized the massive decision that is coming. The Seahawks, after a regular season in which they greatly surpassed initial projections, yet faltered down the stretch, must decide if Smith is the man to lead them to the championship level that Carroll believes they are poised on the brink of.

Of course, Carroll always thinks they’re poised on the brink of a championship. Which is why his evaluation of the regular season, exhilarating as it was at times, was tinged with frustration over the winnable games that got away.

“I’m frustrated by this season,” he said. “Where you all thought that we did a lot of cool things and all that, I don’t feel like that. I feel like we missed our chance. We had five, six games we could have won easily, one way or the other, and we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about what’s going on in Detroit right now. So, you know, that’s my torment. I have to live with that.”

Keep in mind, Carroll was speaking before the Packer-Lions outcome was known. That’s when torment transformed to jubilation.

The impending decision on Smith, a free agent after the season, isn’t exactly torment, but over time it has become more complicated than it once appeared. When the Seahawks were the toast of the NFL, running up a 6-3 record and a game-and-a-half lead in the NFC West behind Smith’s brilliant play, his return seemed a fait accompli. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, citing sources, reported on Nov. 13 that the club planned to make Smith its quarterback of the future and start negotiations after the season.

But what followed was six losses in eight games that put the Seahawks into their playoff uncertainty. Smith’s performance over that stretch was not as stellar, peppered with crucial mistakes that proved costly. The Seahawks bounced back with two wins to end the regular season, but Smith’s performance on Sunday, which he characterized as “probably one of my worst games of the year,” may have complicated the debate.

Smith’s first pass of the game was intercepted by the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey. (“Unacceptable,” Smith said.) He threw another costly interception in the third quarter, and barely escaped a third interception when a Rams defender couldn’t hold on to the ball. Yet he also threw a beauty of a touchdown strike to Tyler Lockett and had a huge run for a first down (enduring a penalty-inducing hit by Ramsey) to set up Myers’ would-be game-winner. Smith then had a key completion to Lockett in overtime to set up the actual game-winner.

As Carroll said, “He got the game in order enough to win a football game for us today.”

And that is a big part of the reason I believe the Seahawks should make Smith’s return a top priority. This is a Seattle team that many thought, in the wake of the Russell Wilson trade, would be among the dregs of the NFL. Sports Illustrated predicted a 3-14 record. And yet here they are at 9-8 and in the postseason, for which Smith deserves massive credit.

Smith showed that he’s a quarterback who can take you to the playoffs – because he did just that. Keep in mind that the Seahawks’ receiving corps has been decimated down the stretch. The running game was stagnant for a stretch until Kenneth Walker III emerged as a force. The defense struggled for two months. Smith was often their most consistent commodity.

While you could nitpick various interceptions or subpar games, Smith ended the regular season as one of only 13 quarterbacks in NFL history to exceed 70% in completion rate — also a Seahawks record. He broke Wilson’s team record for completions and yards, albeit with an extra game to accumulate the stats. After a lackluster start to his career in New York, and years as a backup, Smith looked the part as the forward face of a franchise.

Most importantly, Smith completely won over his teammates, who advocated wholeheartedly for his return in 2023. When asked if he expected Smith to be back, Lockett replied, “I mean, he better come back.”

The negotiations will be tricky, especially with Seattle possessing the No. 5 overall draft pick and thus a shot at making an impact quarterback. Smith, at age 32, can be rightfully expected to try to maximize the best opportunity of his roller-coaster career for a huge payday, especially after waiting so long to be in such a position. But Smith has also been vocal in expressing how much he loves the situation in Seattle, from ownership to the coaching staff to his teammates. When asked after the game about his future free agency, Smith balanced those feelings with the cold reality of the business side.

“I’m focused on football right now, but, you know, the thing is that it’s a business,” he said. “Football is a business. A lot of people have a lot of decisions to make. That’s where I’ll leave it at. I feel great about where I stand with this organization and my teammates and everyone else, but it’s always — it’s always a business first. So I look at it like that. I understand that, and I have to handle my business as well.”

Said Carroll, when asked about the future of the Seahawks quarterback position: “Well, we have work to do, but our system is really good. What we’re asking these guys to do, for him to come in as a first-year starter, to execute like he has done all year long with I think a 69.8 completion percentage for the season and all the touchdowns and all the plays he has done, I think our quarterback position is great. But he is going to be a free agent, so we have work to do.

“We never got a chance to see Drew (Lock), but I’ve seen a lot of him, and I like what he does, too. I think our quarterback situation, if we can get (Smith) signed, is a great situation going forward. We know what we got.”

What the Seahawks have is a quarterback who has been the front man of a wildly successful regular season. And that’s going to be hard to let walk away.

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