Entering the 2022 season, it had been seven years since Geno Smith was a full-time starter in the NFL, a span that included three teams, fewer than 200 pass attempts and fewer than one full season's worth of game appearances.
So you can excuse the overwhelming lot of people who didn't forecast a career revival that would end in Smith being named The Associated Press 2022 NFL Comeback Player of the Year on Thursday at NFL Honors in Phoenix.
Smith garnered 29 first-place votes and 171 points to take home the honor. Second place went to San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey with 110 points and 12 first-place votes. Others receiving first-place tallies were New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Brandon Graham, Giants offensive lineman Nick Gates, Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff and now-retired Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt.
The initial doubt over Smith was threefold. First, he had not been viewed roundly as a starting-caliber quarterback for years. Second, there was the specter of replacing a legend in Russell Wilson, Seattle's Super Bowl-winning starter for nearly a decade. And third, Smith had to beat out Drew Lock (who arrived in the Wilson trade) in training camp for starting honors.
Once that was achieved Smith got the last laugh, topping Wilson and the Broncos in dramatic fashion in Week 1 and to set the course for a terrific season that landed Smith in the Pro Bowl and the Seahawks in the playoffs. Not bad for a player who entered last season playing on a one-year, $3.5 million contract.
Smith, 32, was able to earn an additional $3.5 million in incentives thanks to his strong performance this past season. He completed a league-best 69.8% of his passes and threw for a career-high 4,282 yards, 30 TDs to just 11 interceptions. Smith also rushed for 366 yards, tying his career best, and one more score while starting every game for 9-8 Seattle, who earned the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoffs.
A bigger payoff appears to be in the offing. At season's end, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll stamped Smith's full-circle transformation with a ringing endorsement: "We've got our guy." Of course, there's also the business aspect of it. Smith is due to hit free agency in March, and his timing couldn't have been better. Seahawks GM John Schneider echoed Carroll’s sentiments when he said last month that "we'd love to have him back, he knows that."
That's a discussion for the new league year. Before that, Smith reflected on his whirlwind season in 2022, building off a strong three-game showing the year prior in place of an injured Wilson.
"The town, the city, the team, Coach Carroll, the organization -- they all embraced me," Smith said last month following the Seahawks' wild-card loss to the 49ers. "I was a guy who probably could have been out of the league. They embraced me. I want to repay them for that."
Smith's Week 1 performance, besting Wilson in his return to Seattle, appeared to be something of a one-off feel-good story early in the season. Although Smith played well over the next four games, completing 73.6% of his passes and throwing for 1,110 yards and seven TDs, Seattle dropped three of those contests to fall to 2-3.
The Seahawks' season would then follow a rollercoaster path en route to a foot in the door as the NFC's final wild-card team. They won four straight after the 2-3 start, lost five of the next six, then won two of the final three games to sneak into the postseason.
Smith and the Seahawks held a 17-16 halftime lead over the No. 2-seeded 49ers during Super Wild Card Weekend before falling 41-23.
Even still, there's now hope that Smith can embark on a rare late-career flourish, with the 2022 season helping kick back in the promise of the former second-round pick of the New York Jets way back in 2013. The Seahawks witnessed it up close and appear to be believers in the new Geno.
"He's for real," Carroll said in January. "Geno is the real deal. He can do all of the things that a terrific quarterback does."