Germain Ifedi could be ticked off.
Folks who just lost out on more than $10 million do tend to be less than ecstatic.
Yet when asked about his reaction after Seattle declined his fifth-year contract option worth $10.35 million for 2020, Ifedi sounded philosophical.
The 24-year-old sounded like a union member that wants the players’ association to change the NFL rookie contract system in the next collective bargaining agreement.
“I had no reaction,” Ifedi said Tuesday of the Seahawks declining his option.
“I’m not sure the fifth-year option is the best thing, as far as player contracts.”
The current league CBA that established for teams the automatic fifth-year option for first-round draft choices ends after the 2020 season. It was designed in part to give first-round picks a lucrative extra year on initial deals guaranteed against injury. That is, if they perform as teams project first-round picks to when they draft them.
It was seen as something of a give-back from teams, after the slotted rookie contracts of the new labor agreement. The CBA effectively created a rookie salary cap on previously runaway guarantees to first-round choices getting paid far more than proven veterans before they had played a pro game.
But Ifedi is squarely in the uneven lot of three-year players who have yet to to consistently prove why they were first-round picks. For those players, the fifth-year option isn’t such a good deal.
The teams hold all control. They decide by the May before the top pick’s fourth season whether to give him a fifth year. The cost for that additional year: the average of the top 10 salaries at the player’s position from the previous year for first- through 10th-overall picks, and the third- through 25th-highest salaries at his position for the 11th through 32nd picks in round one.
If the team doesn’t want to pay that premium cost—if it doesn’t see its first-round pick worth a top-10 or top-25 salary at his position—that guy goes on track for free agency following his fourth season like draft picks from every other round.
The Seahawks drafted Ifedi 31st overall in 2016 after he played right tackle in a spread offense with stand-up linemen at Texas A&M. He struggled throughout his rookie season after then-Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable moved him to right guard and asked him to be quick inside.
For 2017, trying to make Ifedi better by being more comfortable, Cable moved Ifedi back to his college position of right tackle.
Ifedi was the league’s most penalized player that ‘17 season. He often got false-start penalties getting out of his stance too early trying to get a jump start on faster edge pass rushers. And when he got out to those edge rushers he often got caught holding them. Seventeen of his 20 penalties that season were for holding or false starts.
Before last season Mike Solari replaced Cable as Seattle’s line coach. Ifedi improved in Solari’s more direct, physical, man-on-man blocking system. Ifedi was part of the offensive line that created the NFL’s top rushing offense in 2018. He played lower, with better leverage, and thus was stronger off the ball. And he cut his penalties by almost half, to 11 last season.
Asked what he improved last year, Ifedi said: “Everything.”
“I think going from year two to year three, you should be looking to improve everything. I don’t think I was really a master at anything. I would challenge any second-year lineman who says he is the master of anything going into his third year.”
Yet the Seahawks decided last month Ifedi wasn’t worth $10.35 million for 2020. It wasn’t that difficult a decision.
The fifth-year salary for tackles next year is almost $9 million more than Ifedi’s base salary for 2019, $1.58 million. This is the final year of the four-year rookie contract Ifedi signed in 2016 worth a total of $8.3 million.
“Them not picking it up? Football’s a business,” Ifedi said, again sounding philosophical. “And, you know, they made a business decision. I can’t feel one way or the other about it. It is what it is.
“I am going into the last year of my contract. That’s what it means.”
While explaining the team’s decision on Ifedi last month, coach Pete Carroll made the point not picking up the option does not mean Seattle has given up on him. If Ifedi continues on the upward trend he started last season in year two with Solari on an offensive line to returns largely intact, the Seahawks still could bring him back for 2020. But that would be at their price. And their price is not $10.35 million.
“Well, there’s there’s a lot of factors,” Carroll said in May about Ifedi and the contract option. “You know, we’re in the midst of trying to continue to fit the roster together and all of that and the big demands, sometimes we can jump on it, sometimes we can’t.
“We love Germain. He’s grown with us. He’s become a solid football player and done a great job, starting a ton of games for us and hanging in there and being tough about it. And we’d love to have him.
“This is not an indication of anything but we like the guy. And we hope he’ll be with us for a long time.”
Teammates like Ifedi, too. The one who sucker punched and bloodied him in training camp in August 2017, Frank Clark, got traded to Kansas City in March. Wide receivers Tyler Lockett and David Moore seemed to like Ifedi following Tuesday’s minicamp practice. They walked up to the side of Ifedi’s talk with the media and waited patiently until Lockett got his chance to ask the tackle a question.
“Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks. Can you talk a little bit about the receiving corps?” Lockett asked.
“Well, the No. 1 receiver needs to cut his hair off,” Ifedi said.
“This isn’t good enough?” Lockett said, taking off his helmet to reveal and almost shaved head.
“Nah, you got to let it go man,” Ifedi said. “You’ve got to come on home.”
Pass protection remains Ifedi’s — and as Carroll said Tuesday, the entire offensive line’s — biggest area for improvement. If Ifedi again struggles with edge rushers zooming outside and past him to pressure quarterback Russell Wilson throughout the 2019 season, Seattle will let him test free agency in March.
The Seahawks have a potential, so-far-unproven candidate to replace him. Jamarco Jones. Seattle’s fifth-round pick from Ohio State last year, missed his rookie season on injured reserve.
Carroll and Solari have shown within the last year they don’t have a ton of patience for Ifedi anymore, and that they do regard Jones as a potential successor at right tackle. Last August, Carroll yanked Ifedi from a mock-game scrimmage early in training camp because of more false-start and holding penalties by Ifed—in a practice.
That day, Carroll said he was “real disappointed” with Ifedi. Two practices later, Ifedi had another false-start foul. Carroll put Jones in Ifedi’s place as the starting right tackle.
Three days later, Jones got a high-ankle sprain during the first preseason game, against Indianapolis. He had surgery and was out for the season.
That’s when Ifedi went back to starting.
Now he’s preparing as it 2019 will be his last for the Seahawks. Because contractually, it is. And Jones is back practicing as Ifedi’s backup.
Ifedi says he’s ahead of previous offseasons because he’s been healthy throughout this one, as opposed to his first three in the NFL.
“Being able to work my way through the spring and summer has been a real big advantage for me this year,” he said.
I asked him if he takes the approach that this can be his last season with Seattle, or the longer-term view that he wants to stay here beyond 2019.
“Well, you know, it’s football. Nothing’s promised,” he said, flatly. “It could be my last day. It could be our last day out here.
“So, you know, I take it one day at a time, as cliche as it sounds. One day at a time.
“Work as hard as you can. And everything will work out.”