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Seahawks Film Analysis: The pros and cons of Sam Howell

Opinion on the quarterback position has never been a unanimous one in Seattle. After Russell Wilson was traded, fans were expecting some movement from the front office. It happened just before the last draft when the Seahawks traded for the former Washington Commanders QB.

NFL: Washington Commanders at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Geno Smith had the difficult task of leading the Seattle Seahawks forward after the Russell Wilson era. There are few moderate opinions about him among fans, most of whom either love him or hate him. And that was reflected in the reactions to his new three-year contract signed last offseason.

Among this team, there was a desire among fans for the team to draft a new quarterback. That did not happen in any of the three drafts after the Wilson trade. However, the team swapped picks with the Washington Commanders and acquired QB Sam Howell.

The move was also not unanimous among the 12’s; we will discuss some possibilities in this article.

The Value of the Trade

The Seahawks receive Sam Howell, a fourth-round pick (No. 102) and a sixth-round pick (No. 179). The Commanders receive a third-round pick (No. 78) and a fifth-round pick (No. 152). In other words, although Seattle kept the same number of picks, they did not maintain their value. We dropped 24 spots from the third to the fourth round and 27 spots from the fifth to the sixth.

The drop in the second part of the trade is actually quite small, but dropping from the third to the fourth will cause Seattle to lose a good number of important pieces in the Draft.

There are several tables to determine the values ​​of the picks. So based on them, we can project who win or who lost. To quantify what kind of value the Commanders got in the Sam Howell trade, it depends on which table you use to see the difference received by the Washington team:

  • Jimmy Johnson Chart: 96th pick (end of round 3);
  • Football Perspective Chart: 148th pick (mid-Round 5);

In both charts, I don’t think it’s worth it. Especially in Johnson’s. As much as it’s argued that he’ll be a cheap backup with good upside, giving up a third-rounder with a team full of holes to fill is complicated.

You can also compare it to the other QB trades that have happened. In particular, I will mention the one between Kenny Pickett and Justin Fields. I believe that there are those who think that Howell is the best option among the three and those who think he is the worst. I understand these opinions, but what I believe is that there is not a huge difference between these names. Therefore, the value should have been very close.

Let’s look at the numbers:

Kenny Pickett -> Swap of third round for fourth (dropped 22 positions) plus two seventh rounders in 2025 ($4.60725 in total plus the 5th year option);

Justin Fields -> 6th round (which becomes a fourth if he plays more than half of the snaps). He costs $3,233,448 plus 5th year option.

Remember that both of the players in the comparison have the fifth-year option in their contracts. When it comes to his contract, Howell has two years and just $2.085 million (in total) that Seattle owes him.

As for the “the Seahawks loved him in the draft” fallacy, let’s get real. Howell was selected with the first pick of the 5th round (144). Seattle took Coby Bryant at 109 in the fourth (to use him in positions that he never played before), and after that the next pick was Tariq Woolen at 153 in the 5th. Before that Seattle had the picks of Charles Cross, Boye Mafe, Ken Walker and Abe Lucas. That’s five picks before Howell was off the board. So, it’s not a solid argument.

Howell numbers in 2023

He had a solid season up until Week 10: 17 TDs, 9 interceptions, 6 games with 290 yards or more thrown. Then things went downhill, with 4 TDs and 12 more INTs. Of the 17 games, he only failed to have an interception in four. That includes games against the Bills (4) and Giants (3).

Howell led the NFL with 21 interceptions last year, and another big problem for him is that he sometimes holds the ball too long, resulting in 65 sacks. He threw the ball more than any QB and that impacts this metric, but Washington’s OL was at least solid, finishing 14th in pass-blocking win rate.

Howell in Tape

Howell is the kind of QB, from a physical standpoint, that any GM would want. Good athleticism, arm strength, etc. However, it seems that for every quality he has, he brings with him a flaw (or, if you want to look at it more optimistically, for every flaw he has, we can see a quality).


These are attributes that you won’t be able to see in charts and stats. Howell has the drive to take responsibility and carry the team, a characteristic that I think is essential in a quarterback. Watch his last year at North Carolina. After a fantastic year that led to a highly hyped final year, he had very little support from the rest of the team and had to put the Tar Heels on his shoulders at times.

This matches his posture in the pocket. He’s not afraid to “sacrifice” his body to throw the ball at the last second or risk passes in tighter windows that more conservative QBs wouldn’t attempt.

Mobility/Pocket Presence

Jamal Adams has a clear path to sack the QB. Howell manages to escape the sack, improvises out of the pocket and makes the move for a big pass.

Jarran Reed with a great bull rush is driving the OL into Howell’s face. Notice that Howell has the freedom to move to the right or left to escape pressure. However, when he doesn’t “switch on” to improvise, he holds the ball too much and creates pressure for himself.

Arm Strength

Howell can quickly identify the 49ers’ Cover 1 and knows that the CB is 1-on-1 at the bottom of the screen, which gives him an advantage on his slot receiver’s fade route in the Smash concept. He fits the pass well in the empty space, away from the CB and the safety, making life easier for the receiver.

At times it feels like we’re watching Josh Allen’s rookie season. His arm strength makes him careless at times. This overconfidence can cost him dearly. Here he sees that the defense is tight and believes he can beat them with just his arm strength.

Decision Making

Howell reads the field quickly and manages to anticipate his receiver deep down the field. Even with three defenders close by he makes the right decision and scores the beautiful TD.

Eric Bieniemy’s scheme was incredibly focused on passing and led Howell to lead the league in yards, but there are problems with this scheme. Here, the 49ers call man coverage and send a blitz. The offense responds with four of exactly the same routes, 10-yard hitch routes.

But, despite the call not being very creative, Howell doesn’t accept the sack, nor does he throw the ball away. He sees the receiver marked and still tries the pass, running the risk of being intercepted.

And there will be moments when you wonder if he was a genius or just crazy/careless to throw the ball in a certain situation.

The Real Concern...

He even led the league in passing yards, but at the cost of also leading the league in interceptions, with 21, and a 1:1 ratio with his TDs.

In this link, we have a video compilation of all his interceptions. I suggest you watch it, at first, without looking at the tactical or technical part, but look at it situationally. Look at WHEN and not HOW the interceptions happened. He even talked during OTAs about how he needs to improve his decision-making/turnovers.

For those who like numbers:

  • Of the 21 interceptions, 19 were his fault (91%);
  • Of the 21 interceptions, 4 became pick sixes (20%);
  • Of the 21 interceptions, 3 were on errors in reading linebackers/underneath defenders (14%);
  • Of the 21 interceptions, 11 happened when the team was still “live” in the game [up to 10 points difference] (53%);
  • Of the 21 interceptions, 13 (it would have been 15 but the Commanders missed 2 FGs) resulted in a score for the opponent on the following drive (62%);

In other words, if you’re looking for someone to have clutch moments, like Vintage Wilson, Howell didn’t prove to be that guy.

Final Thoughts

From a starting quarterback perspective, there is no debate: Geno will be the starting QB unless he gets hurt or someone punches him in the jaw (IK Enemkpali is still out of the league, right?!).

Also, forget about any possibility of trading Geno. His contract has been restructured and may have become more attractive to other teams, but the fact that Seattle has not made an effort to find another backup option shows that the team will go with the Smith/Howell duo for the regular season. PJ Walker only arrived near the end of OTAs and with the exception of UDFA Chevan Cordeiro, the team spent a good amount of time with just two QBs, which is actually quite unusual for this stage of the offseason.

To think about the value of trading for a backup, let’s look at the Draft. Picking at No. 16, Seattle was out of the running for any of the three QBs that I believed to have a real first-round grade (Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels) and it would be too early for the next group, which I personally thought would be second-round grades (Bo Nix, J.J. McCarthy and Michael Penix Jr).

After these six QBs went in the first round, the next one at the position was only chosen at pick 150, in the fifth round. It was Spencer Rattler, a good bet and a name that Seattle brought in its 30-Visit in the pre-draft process. I confess that I personally preferred to “risk” the fifth round on Rattler than on Howell’s two years and it would even cost less. There was also the option of Michael Pratt, an underrated player who ended up going in the seventh round.

So, Howell gives us a solid backup right away who got a lot of playing time last season. I believe many of his issues can be addressed. The big question is whether he gets a chance before his contract is up. In the best case scenario, Seattle cuts Geno next year (13.5 million in dead money and frees up 25 million) and uses Howell as a bridge QB to the 2025 draft QB.