Germain Ifedi walked to his locker casually. Even more casually, he stood with his back to the room. The bass boomed off the walls of the visting locker room, but Ifedi wasn’t really a part of the postgame party.
It took teammate Joey Hunt to alert Ifedi he had a visitor standing behind him that wanted to talk to him.
“Oh, sorry,” Ifedi said.
Sure, Seattle’s often-criticized right tackle got penalized two more times Sunday, for seven fouls in six games. But he did not allow a sack.
The Seahawks were missing injured Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown and injured right guard D.J. Fluker Sunday in rockin’ Cleveland. And on this wild day, Ifedi was the most dependable blocker on Seattle’s makeshift offensive line.
Ifedi repelled Browns elite pass rusher Myles Garrett on the Seahawks’ touchdown that got them back from being down 20-6 into the lead for the first time in Seattle’s eventual 32-28 win.
It’s easy—too easy, really—to criticize Ifedi for penalties, for allowing sacks. That’s part of the job of an NFL offensive tackle. Even the most casual fan can see those plays.
It’s takes a little more to see what Ifedi did a key moment in Seattle’s rally to win on Sunday.
That’s why Ifedi didn’t expect a locker-room visitor immediately after the Seahawks’ fifth win in six games to begin this season.
No attention is a good thing for an offensive tackle—especially against Garrett. He was the first-overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft and Ifedi’s college teammate for two seasons at Texas A&M. Garrett began Sunday second in the league with seven sacks.
“I think I more than held my own,” Ifedi said.
“He’s a helluva a player. It’s fun player really good players every week.
“You’ve just got to keep doing your job.”
Ifedi did his in Cleveland.
Days after Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, said “this is the best he’s played,” Ifedi played even better.
Third and goal for Seattle at the 6-yard line, with the Seahawks down 20-18 midway through the third quarter. Russell Wilson drops back to pass. Ifedi stops Garrett first with a straight-arm punch on the right edge of the line. Then, after Garrett charges again, Ifedi stymies Garrett with another straight right hand and arm while shuffling his feet to his right.
That gives Wilson the time to step up into the pocket and look at multiple receivers. The last one is Jaron Brown. The wide receiver has time to go from outside to inside at the goal line for the touchdown that puts Seattle ahead for the first time, 25-20.
“That was a huge touchdown,” Wilson said.
Thanks to Ifedi.
“You know, I know the guy pretty well,” Ifedi said of Garrett. “I knew if I gave him the impression that he could get the inside that he would try to take it. I was just muscling him and giving Russ a good lane to see and maneuver.
“It was good strategy.
“But, heck of a player, both him and (Browns fellow pass rusher) Olivier Vernon. Really good players today. But we were happy to come out on top.”
How satisfying was that touchdown, giving Wilson so much time for a pivotal score in a season the quarterback’s often had none?
“We just keep playing,” Ifedi said, seeming to want to move on from his play and talk more about the team being 5-1.
He then added a very offensive-lineman comment.
“I don’t even remember the play, honestly. I kind of remember it,” he said. “But it was cool. It was real cool. Every time we score, I’m just happy. I never know how we score, who scores. I just know we scored. And I’m just happy.
“We are excited to keep this rollin’, keep getting road wins, just keep the ball rolling. This is exciting. This is exciting that all our preparation shows. It’s really starting to show.”
Garrett is off to the best start of his three-year career. His nine sacks through six games are two more than his total from his rookie season of 2017. He had a three-sack game against the New York Jets last month.
Garrett has 22 1/2 sacks in his last 22 games. He had two on Sunday; he beat fill-in left tackle George Fant for one and Wilson gave up on a drop back and ran up the middle into Garrett up the middle for the second sack. He’s a physical freak: 6-4 and 272 pounds, with a 41-inch vertical leap. That jump would have been the fourth-highest at the NBA’s rookie scouting combine this year. The three higher basketball jumpers were all guards, not 272-pound football linemen.
Ifedi is in the final months of his rookie contract as Seattle’s first-round draft choice in 2016, a year before his A&M teammate Garrett went first overall to Cleveland. In early May the Seahawks decided by a league deadline not to exercise their fifth-year contract option on Ifedi for 2020.
First-round picks have four-year rookie contracts that automatically include team options for a fifth season at a cost set per position by the NFL, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
The cost for fifth-year options on NFL offensive tackles for next year is $10.35 million. That’s a few more million than Ifedi’s play has warranted through three years. It’s almost $9 million more than his $1.58 million base salary for this season.
The Seahawks could still bring back Ifedi for 2020, on a new contract. But now that would be at their cost, not the $10.35 million the fifth-year option would have mandated.
Ifedi said Wednesday, as he did this spring, he wasn’t totally broken up about the team’s decision. It sets him up to find his worth on the free-agent market in March.
His play Sunday against Garrett, including the key one that finally got the Seahawks in the lead deep into the third quarter, is going to help raise his value.
“I was leaning on him this week that we’re losing a couple guys, and he needs to send a message and stand for the message of what we’re about this week,” Carroll said.
“He was excited to do that.
“I think he’s done really well.”