Ifedi is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2019, though the Seahawks could pick up an option for a fifth year, even if that seems unlikely.
The Seahawks have a chance to do something over the next four months that they never have in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era — pick up a fifth-year option on a first-round draft pick.
OK, so maybe that’s not the most exciting “first’’ for a team to achieve.
It also may be unlikely to happen given the team’s history and who the player involved is this time around — right tackle Germain Ifedi.
But there is some intrigue in how the team handles Ifedi, who is the only player the team picked in the first round in the drafts from 2013-2017.
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Ifedi was taken No. 31 overall in 2016 out of Texas A&M. All players drafted in the first round that year are now eligible to have their fifth-year options picked up, meaning they would be under contract through 2020. The period in which to pick up the option began after the regular season and continues through May 3.
Since the deadline is four months away, nothing needs to happen any time soon, and teams often wait until around the draft to make a decision. The NFL draft this year is April 25-27.
The fifth-year options come with a significant raise. Numbers for this year have yet to be set, but last year, an offensive tackle taken after the top 10 would have been due a one-year salary of $9.6 million. So this year’s number for Ifedi for 2020 would likely be around $10 million or so.
Ifedi will make $1.5 million in 2019 in the final season of his initial four-year rookie contract.
Seattle has had just two prior opportunities to pick up a fifth-year option and declined each time — offensive lineman James Carpenter in 2014 and defensive end Bruce Irvin in 2015. Each then played out his contract and became an unrestricted free agent and signed elsewhere (Carpenter with the Jets and Irvin with the Raiders).
Given the huge raise involved and Ifedi’s inconsistent play throughout his three years, playing out his rookie deal is almost certainly the route Seattle will take for Ifedi, even if roughly two-thirds of first-round picks get the option picked up — last year, 21 of 32 did.
That means Ifedi may have just one more season to convince the Seahawks he can still fulfill the potential that compelled them to pick him in the first round in 2016 in the first place.
By the view that counts the most — that of head coach Pete Carroll — Ifedi took a step in the right direction in 2018 when he started 15 games, 14 at right tackle and another at right guard when D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy were injured.
“He had a good year,’’ Carroll said Monday. “He improved throughout the year. He was very steady and really took to (offensive line coach) Mike (Solari) and (assistant offensive line coach) B.C.’s (Brennan Carroll’s) coaching and they worked with him to make sure that he was working to improve the whole time and his attitude toward getting better technique-wise and scheme-wise. He’s a legit player.”
Also viewing Ifedi as having improved incrementally this year was the analytic site Pro Football Focus. Ifedi finished with a grade of 55.1 — second-best among Seahawks linemen behind the 82.3 of left tackle Duane Brown, and better than his 51.7 grade in 2017. Conversely, it was just the 75th best among all offensive tackles.
Ifedi also improved markedly in what was a particularly vexing area in 2017 — penalties. Ifedi led all NFL players with 20 penalties called on him (16 enforced) in 2017.
In 2018, that was cut basically in half, to 11 called and 10 enforced.
“He did better for sure there,’’ Carroll said. “But, he’s just growing, learning, knows what he can do and what he can’t do better and he’s much more consistent.’’
And Carroll and the Seahawks sound like they are counting on him remaining the right tackle in 2019. Ifedi a year ago was dealing with a core muscle injury that required surgery and that slowed his work in the offseason.
But Ifedi came out of this season healthy, now having played a second year at right tackle after playing guard in 2016. With a year under his belt, and with the tutelage of Solari and Brown — a longtime mentor whom Seattle acquired midseason in 2017 — Ifedi might be poised to take an even bigger leap in 2019.
Carroll said Monday the Seahawks would like to keep as much of their offensive line intact as they can after a season in which Seattle led the NFL in rushing at 160 yards per game, after ranking 23rd in 2017.
“He came out of the season physically in great shape so he should have a terrific offseason and should come roaring back again,’’ Carroll said. “We should count on those guys up front to be really good now. They should be improved and just a step forward with the system and all the things that we asked them to do differently. They’ll be better and he certainly will be, too.”
Ifedi said he hadn’t given much thought to whether the Seahawks will pick up the option or let him play out his contract and what happens next.
But he thinks that, in 2018, he made a strong case for himself to be a part of the team’s long-term future.
“I think it was a good year,’’ Ifedi said. “A really good year. It was a year that saw challenges from the start coming back from injury in the offseason and getting back healthy to start the year and then facing some of the elite guys in the league (Von Miller, Khalil Mack the first two weeks) and some of them a couple of times around. I think it was a good year being able to hold up versus those guys, being able to get a real reduction in the penalties and being able to stay healthy for the most part.
“It was a good year for growth and a good building-block year and something to really build on and it’s just good to go into this offseason healthy and now just be able to focus on my game for one offseason for the first time. We are just cracking the surface of where I know I can get to.’’