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Will the Seahawks pick up Germain Ifedi’s fifth-year option?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The fifth-year option is not something that comes of all that often for the Seattle Seahawks, who have consistently traded down or out of the first round over the last seven years, but 2019 is an exception. Barring an unexpected trade, the Seahawks will have to make a decision on right tackle Germain Ifedi by May 3 as far as if they want to ensure themselves the right to keep him under team control through 2020. It would seem like an easy choice to retain a former first rounder who has started 44 games in three seasons, but it may be hard to reconcile with the idea that Ifedi is as valuable on the field as the fifth-year option would cost the team.

Seattle’s had the right to exercise Ifedi’s option since December 31, but the deadline doesn’t come for another five months so there’s no reason to rush it. What would it cost? The rule goes that a top-10 pick will be paid the average of the top-10 paid players at their position while picks 11-32 get the average of players ranked 3-25 in salary. Someone smarter than me could calculate what that would mean for a tackle in 2019, but nothing is set in stone and the NFL will announce those figures at a later date; last year, it was revealed on April 20.

In 2018, 20 of 32 fifth-year options were exercised, which was the same figure as 2017. Of course, this gets less likely the further you go down the list: from picks 26-32, only Byron Jones and Damarious Randall had their options picked up, and Randall was traded from the Green Bay Packers to the Cleveland Browns shortly before — the Packers weren’t going to pick it up. Both players are also DBs and both were transitioning to new positions, Jones from safety to corner and Randall from corner to safety. Oddly, that means that Randall is getting paid $9 million next season (if the Browns don’t cut him, which they can as the fifth-year option holds zero guarantees other than injury guarantees) while Jones is only getting about $6 million, and those are the positions they didn’t play, not the positions they did.

Moving back to Ifedi and offensive tackles.

The NFL classifies all offensive linemen the same as far as fifth-year options go and last year that meant a salary of $9.625 million for players picked outside of the top 10. Andrus Peat and D.J. Humphries had their options picked up while Cam Erving, Cedric Ogbuehi, and Laken Tomlinson did not. Erving and Tomlinson are no longer with the teams that drafted them, while Ogbuehi spent most of the season as a healthy scratch for the Cincinnati Bengals. Humphries was a risky one as he missed all of his rookie season plus 11 more games in 2017, but the Arizona Cardinals picked up his option anyway; Humphries played in nine games and then went on injured reserve, so I assume his 2019 salary is now guaranteed just as Blake Bortles’ was for the Jacksonville Jaguars when he got hurt at the end of 2018.

That gives you a little recent history on fifth-year options and offensive linemen, but Ifedi is a bit unique in that he hasn’t been an injury concern, and he hasn’t been so rough as to move on from like Ogbuehi or Tomlinson, but is he worth potentially $10 million or more in 2020?

The Seahawks are only set to pay five players at least $10 million next season and one of them is sure to be released: Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Doug Baldwin, Duane Brown, and Kam Chancellor, the aforementioned release candidate. Seattle must also consider the upcoming contract of Frank Clark, who is sure to be one of the three-highest paid players on the team barring an unforeseeable split, and an extension for Jarran Reed. In 2020, Tyler Lockett’s salary also goes above $10 million, which is that same year that we can expect Wilson to be entering $25 million and up territory.

Justin Britt’s 2020 salary is also $11 million, but I’ll be pretty surprised if he’s still playing on that deal for Seattle.

You can argue that Ifedi’s deal could replace that of Brown, who is turning 34 before the start of next season, but I don’t think that’s in the Seahawks plans; Brown has proven to be the best offensive lineman on this team, much better than Ifedi, and I think the three-year extension fully intended for him to play on the team for at least the first two years of said contract. Remember that Andrew Whitworth is 37 and still playing at a high level for the LA Rams. Brown, like Whitworth, has a consistently-positive record of health going in his favor so him playing left tackle at age 35 is not just possible, it’s what the Seahawks expect to happen and will be on their minds when the May 3 deadline approaches.

Looking at the last couple of years, the fifth-year options picked up for linemen include Peat, Humphries, Zack Martin, and Taylor Lewan. Lewan is a premier left tackle, Martin is in the running for best guard in the NFL, if not best overall lineman, and Peat’s been a top-ranked left guard for most of his career with the ability to fill in as a solid left tackle. Whereas Humphries has shown what not to do with fifth-year options rather than what you should do.

Whether it’s been under Tom Cable or Mike Solari, Ifedi has not been one of the league’s better right tackles.

In 2018, Ifedi drew 11 penalties, including six false starts and four holding calls. Four of those penalties came in the fourth quarter and all of those games resulted in close losses. This was actually an improvement from the 20 penalties he drew in 2017 and it’s difficult to prove that Ifedi is trending in a positive direction rather than the possibility that he just did better than what his career average of penalties/year will end up being.

Bob Condotta also recently wrote about Ifedi and the fifth-year option over at The Seattle Times, noting that Pete Carroll had positive things to say about Ifedi at the end of the year and that the team probably plans for him to be the starting right tackle next season. However, there’s a big difference between playing for $2.6 million and playing for $10 million, and Ifedi has not done anything to put himself in that class of footballer. Despite a dearth of quality offensive linemen and the unlikelihood that the Seahawks will be able to easily replace Ifedi with a significantly better right tackle (it’s a struggle for virtually all teams because almost any tackle who is good is going to start on the left side) the team shouldn’t panic as the Cardinals did with Humphries.

Instead, I’d expect them to continue to workout George Fant in that area and prepare for him to get snaps at the position in at least the near future. I’d also expect them to be considering linemen with their first pick in the draft this season, wherever that is, even if I also expect and/or hope them to take a long look at pass rushers as well. What I do not expect is for the Seahawks to exercise Ifedi’s option or have a plan in place that could result in paying him $10 million in 2020 if he plays well enough to earn that (which at this point is unlikely) or gets injured. If Ifedi plays well enough for a new contract, the team will just negotiate with him as such. If he doesn’t, then the offensive line churn continues.