Few if any Seahawks elicited as much debate — or maybe we should say, frustration — as Germain Ifedi the past four years.
A first-round pick in 2016 out of Texas A&M, Ifedi arrived with a lot of fanfare — finally, the thinking went, the Seahawks were doing something to improve their offensive line, even if that thought undersold the fact that from 2010-17, the Seahawks drafted more offensive linemen than any team in the NFL. (And it’s maybe worth recalling that Seattle took Ifedi after trading down to get an extra third-round pick that turned into tight end Nick Vannett, who the team then traded to Pittsburgh for a fifth-round pick that turned into cornerback Quinton Dunbar).
Early impressions were encouraging: Ifedi got in a few tussles in his first training camp, including one that got a fair amount of attention with fellow Aggie alum Michael Bennett, which led to a perception he was bringing an intensity and attitude to the line that had been missing the previous season.
“Hey, he’s just a tough football player, and I love the way he’s approaching the game,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Ifedi in August 2016. “Gauging what he can and can’t do, we’ll figure it out. I don’t want him to change anything. I want him to keep battling and keep pushing, and match the passion he sees from the guys across from him.”
But Ifedi suffered an ankle injury in practice a few days before the season started, and when he finally played after missing the first three games, results were mixed. The team was using him at right guard instead of right tackle, which seemed to some sort of confusing given his status as a first-round pick.
And pretty quickly, the inconsistencies and penalties that would mar his career became apparent.
Ifedi moved to the tackle spot where the team had drafted him to play in 2017, but the penalties and inconsistency continued. He led the NFL with 20 penalties, 16 of which were accepted, in 2017.
And while Ifedi remained a starter for the following two seasons — he and Russell Wilson were the only two Seahawks to play every snap in 2019 — the debate lingered among Seahawks fans.
Was Ifedi really the best the Seahawks could do at right tackle? What was the general perception of him around the league? Answers arrived in the past few weeks when Ifedi became a free agent on March 18.
After going unsigned for a week, Ifedi finally agreed on March 25 to a one-year deal with the Bears — but to play guard instead of tackle, which seemed pretty eye-opening.
Consider eyes opened as wide as possible once the news arrived Saturday from Field Yates of ESPN of the contract Ifedi ultimately signed with the Bears — a one-year deal that qualifies as the veteran salary benefit under the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, meaning $137,500 to sign, and a $910,000 base salary with a cap number of $887,500.
That came a year after the Seahawks could have picked up an option for the 2020 season that could have paid him $10.3 million before they declined to do so (not that it’s thought they ever seriously considered it). And it’s a pittance compared to the salary that his listed backup last year — George Fant — got from the New York Jets.
On the first day that free agents could talk to teams, Fant agreed to a three-year deal worth up to $27.3 million, with $13.7 million guaranteed and a $3 million signing bonus.
It’s also quite a bit less than Seattle paid Brandon Shell, who appears to be in line to take Ifedi’s spot at right tackle. Shell got a two-year deal worth up to $9 million, with $5.1 million guaranteed and a $4 million signing bonus.
It’s also a bit less than Seattle paid free agent Cedric Ogbuhei, who appears set to back up Shell (and will probably be publicly stated as having a chance to compete with him in camp) as well as take over Fant’s role as an eligible tackle/big tight end. Ogbuei got a contract worth up to $2.3 million with $500,000 guaranteed and a $1.3 million base salary.
Whether Ifedi might have had a better offer or two earlier in free agency but waited to try to get something better and then had to take what he could get is unclear.
But it’s hard to imagine he would have turned down something much more significant, especially given that the right-tackle market didn’t really materialize the way some thought — only three right tackles got contracts that included guaranteed money of more than $6.25 million, with Shell receiving the sixth-most guaranteed money of right tackles.
If the surprisingly low salary Ifedi received validated the thoughts of many Seahawks fans that it was time for Seattle to move on, it also proved to be bad news in one sense: It won’t help Seattle in the form of compensatory picks in 2021 because veteran-salary contracts do not count as a free agent lost.
At the moment, Seattle does not appear in line to get any comp picks in 2021 after receiving three in 2020, via calculations from OvertheCap.com.
It’s not thought Seattle had any serious intentions of bringing back Ifedi, but any idea the Seahawks might went out the window when Shell agreed to terms on the first day of the signing period.
Still, that Seattle gave Shell five times as much in guaranteed money as Ifedi got will undoubtedly serve as an oft-discussed point of comparison the next two seasons, with the Seahawks hoping they will get steadier and less-penalized play out of their right-tackle spot.
As for Ifedi, he’ll head to the Windy City hoping maybe a change of scenery will revive his career and result in a little better market a year from now.