A little over a week ago I took a look at the potential for turnover on the offensive line of the Seattle Seahawks through the offseason, pondering the changes that could be seen between now and then. While any of the positions could possibly see a new starter next season due to a variety of reasons, one of the biggest questions for the team to address in the offseason will be at right tackle.
Incumbent Germain Ifedi has been the starter on the right end of the line for 41 of the 43 games since the start of the 2017 season. The only times he has not been protecting Russell Wilson’s vision side having been the Week 16 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, which he missed due to injury, and the Week 17 win over the Arizona Cardinals when he started in place of D.J. Fluker and George Fant handled the right tackle duties. Other than those two games, every single offensive snap the Seahawks have played over the past two years and eleven games has seen Ifedi at right tackle.
He’s certainly had ups and downs in his time at the position after entering the league as a raw physical specimen with no technique whatsoever. However, it appears to have become apparent to Ifedi early in his career that in the NFL his size and strength would not be able to carry him like they did in college and high school. At lower levels of football, size, speed and strength can dominate in the absence of technique, and Ifedi is certainly blessed with size and strength. That said, when going against the NFL competition, his lack of technique showed during a horrible rookie season, and then during a sophomore year where his forced use of technique looked unnatural and almost mechanical in nature. However, as he’s become more experienced, the use of proper technique has appeared to become much more fluid and relaxed. That, combined with better form in his blocking, has allowed him to play much more freely and relaxed, something that is visible on tape.
This is in no way trying to say he’s been perfect. There’s no question he’s been far from perfect, but the improvement over the years is noticeable and it certainly shows up on tape. Footwork that was non-existent as a rookie and slow, forced and deliberate in his second season had now become smooth. That has allowed for better positioning when taking on defenders, and combined with better balance has come together to create a situation where he could be on the verge of taking the next step to being an above average tackle in the NFL.
Whether he will take that next step is the million dollar question, or perhaps more accurately, the ten million dollar plus question. The official start of free agency is just 16 weeks from today, with the legal tampering period kicking off two days prior, and as has been the case in recent years, it seems likely that the market for Ifedi, tackles and offensive linemen in general will be white hot. That has set up a situation where Ifedi is likely looking at a payday that likely lands him a contract well north of the $10.3M fifth year option the team declined back in the spring. Basically, it boils down to the fact that if the team didn’t want to pay him the $10.3M the option called for, the odds seem slim they are willing to pay him the $12M or more per season he could earn on the open market.
Brandon Thorn, a fantastic follow on Twitter for those wishing to learn more about offensive line play (@BrandonThornNFL on Twitter for those who don’t follow him) had this to say recently about the current state of offensive line play in the NFL.
Tunsil’s impact, what DAL looked like without Tyron/Collins, LAC without Okung. The list goes on. What SF did without their two tackles this season is an anomaly, largely because Shanahan is so great at what he does.— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) November 25, 2019
So, we see the need for tackles across the league, and the Seahawks are looking at both their starting right tackle, Ifedi, and his backup, Fant, being free agents in the spring. While Ifedi appears likely to be more expensive than they’d prefer, Fant has logged barely 1300 offensive snaps during his time with the team, making him the type of player the Hawks haven’t traditionally extended.
Thus, the question obviously becomes, who will be starting at right tackle for Seattle in 2020? I posed this question in a highly unscientific Twitter poll last week, and here are how the results turned out.
Who would you prefer to see playing right tackle for the Seahawks in 2020?— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) November 20, 2019
Fant, to no surprise, came in last in the voting, while Ifedi finished third ahead of only Fant, but still behind an unknown, unnamed player fans would like to see the team draft or sign in free agency. And the winner of this poll was Jamarco Jones, meaning, basically, it appears fans would prefer to see almost anyone playing right tackle going forward than the only two players who have manned the position for all but a single snap for the Seahawks since the start of 2017. (Author’s note: Since I know someone will ask, Elijah Nkansah played a single snap at right tackle against the Chiefs in 2018.)
The Seahawks appear likely to find themselves drafting at the end of the first round once again, which means any right tackle they draft would likely be somewhat of a repeat of their 2016 selection of Ifedi. The offensive linemen available at the bottom of the first round, or the top of the second as may be the case, are not the cream of the crop and are less likely than a top ten pick to be able to contribute positively right away. Ifedi had his technique issues, Ryan Ramczyk, who did step in and play well immediately, was coming off hip surgery and likely wasn’t on the Hawks board that high. Just this past weekend Andre Dillard, the first round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, taken 22nd overall, was benched at halftime because of his inability to adjust to playing on the right side of the line.
Which brings things to the question of Jones. Jones has never played a snap at tackle in the NFL. He’s never played a snap at right tackle in either college or the NFL. So if a highly touted first round pick had trouble switching sides, how much trouble would Jones have having to relearn all of his technique as a mirror image? Obviously, a full offseason would make it easier to learn than over the course of a week during the season, but the question of how well and how quickly he’d adapt to playing right tackle against NFL edge rushers is a very valid concern.
In any case, according to the results of the poll, two thirds of fans would prefer to see anyone but Fant or Ifedi, which could see the learning curve start all over in 2020.