RENTON — Even the unseasonably hot weather didn’t appear to put any extra heat on Seahawks right tackle Germain Ifedi at minicamp this week — despite record temperatures throughout the area Tuesday, Ifedi wore a long-sleeved hoodie under his jersey.
Ifedi is similarly keeping his cool when it comes to a 2019 season that could define the direction of the rest of his career.
He addressed that for the first time when he met the media this week, punctuated with a jab at receiver Tyler Lockett, who briefly interrupted to ask him to say something about the receiving corps.
“Well, our No. 1 receiver has to cut his hair,’’ Ifedi said as Lockett took off his helmet to reveal that he already has very little.
That exchange came shortly after Ifedi, Seattle’s first-round pick in the 2016 draft, got a few questions about the team’s decision earlier this spring not to pick up a fifth-year option on his contract for the 2020 season that would have paid him $10.35 million. NFL teams can exercise an option for a fifth year on first-round picks, via the league’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement.
Seattle’s decision means that Ifedi is playing the 2019 season with his future unsettled and, as yet, no guarantee of a big payday down the road (though the option is guaranteed for injury only). He is due to make $1.577 million this year on what he now knows is the final season of his four-year rookie deal.
The option would have made Ifedi among the top five highest-paid right tackles in the NFL for the 2020 season, as of today, and the Seahawks appear willing to wait a little while longer to see if Ifedi is worth a hefty deal. He could still be signed to an extension at any time.
The options, though, also are only for one year, meaning that if it had been picked up Ifedi would be back to potentially playing again in 2020 with his future still uncertain.
The options tend to be viewed as an indication of what the team thinks of a player, so Seattle not picking it up could have been perceived by Ifedi as a negative. He was one of just 12 players in the league who did not have the option exercised.
But he said Tuesday he was fine with the decision, noting that he also can be one year closer to a long-term deal.
“I had no reaction,’’ he said. “I’m not sure the fifth-year options, that that’s the best thing, as far as player contracts. But reading into their not picking it up, I think football’s a business, man. They made a business decision, and I can’t feel one way or another about it. It is what it is. Going into the last year of my contract, that’s what it means.’’
What it also means is Seattle will have a decision to make at some point over the next year on a player who has yet to prove that he was either deserving of being taken No. 31 overall or that it was an egregious mistake.
On the plus side, Ifedi has been durable. He started 44 of a possible 48 regular season games in three years (which includes missing the first three of his career with an ankle injury) as well as all three playoff games, and last year was part of an offensive line that helped Seattle lead the NFL in rushing.
Conversely, Ifedi led the NFL in penalties in 2017. Though he cut those from 20 to 10 last year when he seemed to stabilize his game, he had some struggles with elite pass rushers. In the eyes of most observers, has yet to really play to a first-round level.
Pro Football Focus wrote this about Ifedi last month: “Another 2016 first-rounder chock full of potential, traits, tools, etc., Ifedi has yet to turn any of it into high-end, stable production in the NFL. His career-best grade (55.6) is a career-low for other starters in the NFL, and his three-year overall grade (52.8) ranks 63rd among the 66 offensive tackles with 1,200-plus offensive snaps in the last three years, barely eclipsing the efforts of Bobby Hart (52.1), Julien Davenport (51.2) and Breno Giacomini (45.4). His pass protection has improved of late, but he’s a complete liability in the run game – a bad thing to have as your Achilles heel in an offense that values the run more than any other team in the NFL.’’
Seattle coaches have spoken more highly of Ifedi than that assessment would indicate. But Seattle’s decision not to pick up the option also made clear they are still waiting to see a little more.
Ifedi expressed confidence Tuesday that he will continue last year’s upward trajectory. He noted he’s fully healthy after spending last season rehabbing from offseason sports hernia surgery and that he is also now in his third year at tackle and second playing for coach Mike Solari (and second playing with veteran and close friend/mentor Duane Brown.)
“It feels good coming to the end of the offseason program, being healthy for the first time in a couple years for the offseason program,’’ he said. “It’s been exciting being able to do everything and work with my teammates out there. Second year under Mike (Solari), we’ve been picked up right where we left off after last year. … Being able to start from January after the season ended, a couple of weeks, and being able to work my way through the spring and the summer has been a real big advantage for me this year.’’
It also isn’t lost on Ifedi that the price for right tackles continues to only go up. Wednesday, the Chiefs signed Mitchell Schwarz to a one-year extension for the 2021 season worth $11.255 million, making him the second-highest-paid right tackle in the NFL, according to NFL.com.
The Seahawks wouldn’t be unhappy if Ifedi’s play proved worthy of a similar deal someday down the road. For now, Ifedi says he’s just living in the moment.
“Well, you know, it’s football, nothing’s promised,’’ he said. “Could be my last day out here. So, you know, taking one day at a time, as cliche as it sounds, take one day at a time and work as hard as you can and everything will work out.’’