The Seahawks took a step Tuesday to secure the immediate future of one of the key pieces of the Russell Wilson trade, deciding to pick up the fifth-year option on the rookie contract of tight end Noah Fant, a league source confirmed to The Seattle Times.
Picking up the option means Fant will be under contract for the 2023 season at a fully guaranteed $6.85 million.
Fant, who will make $2.2 million in 2022, is the first of the NFL’s 32 first-round picks in 2019 to have his option exercised. Teams have until May 2 to make a decision.
Fant was a 2019 first-round pick of Denver at 20th overall. All first-round picks come with an option for a team to pick up the fifth year at a predetermined amount based on a formula that includes playing time and Pro Bowl invitations earned.
The Seahawks could always work out an extension with Fant to lower the cap hit for that year and also assure he stays with the team longer.
But for now, it means Fant can’t become a free agent following the 2022 season.
Fant was one of three players Seattle acquired from Denver for Wilson, the others being quarterback Drew Lock and defensive end Shelby Harris, along with five draft picks over the next two seasons, including first- and second-rounders each year.
It is the first time the Seahawks have exercised a fifth-year option since they were implemented as part of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, though that includes just four other first-round picks Seattle has made since then — OL James Carpenter (2011), DE/LB Bruce Irvin (2011), OL Germain Ifedi (2016) and RB Rashaad Penny (2019).
Seattle also is not expected to use the option on its own first-round pick in 2019, defensive end L.J. Collier, who would be due a guaranteed salary of $11.5 million.
Picking up the option means for now Seattle has two of its top eight salary cap hits for 2023 tied up in tight ends — Will Dissly is sixth at $9.25 million as part of a three-year contract extension he signed last month.
And it speaks to how big of a role Seattle hopes to see Fant play in the offense.
Fant, 24, set a career-high with 68 receptions in 2021 along with 670 yards and four touchdown and has 170 receptions for 1,905 yards and 10 touchdowns in 47 games and 41 starts in three NFL seasons. He became just the sixth rookie tight end in league history with multiple 100-yard receiving games in 2019.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said last month the Seahawks were ready to take Fant with the 21st overall pick in 2019 before Denver grabbed him at 20. Seattle then pulled off a trade with Green Bay to move down in the draft and eventually take Collier.
“We had his name written down,” Schneider said. “It was that close. We thought he was coming to us.”
Now he’s assured of teaming with Dissly for at least two more years as Seattle’s tight ends, with Fant expected to play more as a receiver and Dissly likely used more as an in-line blocker, with the two often used together.
Fant said last week when he was introduced to Seattle media in a Zoom news conference that he wasn’t worried about Seattle’s decision.
“For me it’s just kind of letting that fall where it may,” he said. “I’m just focused on getting in there on (April 19 for the start of the offseason workout program) and getting to work, man. Getting to see my locker and getting to see the facility and let everything else take care of itself.”