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NFL observer expects Germain Ifedi to get paid handsomely

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Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

With the calendar turning over to February today, it means that the only meaningful NFL game for months is this weekend, and that it’s only a matter of weeks until the start of free agency. Specifically, just 44 days from Saturday the legal tampering period begins for Unrestricted Free Agents, and rumors and reports of deals are likely to start leaking quickly after it begins.

With offensive line play in the NFL having suffered for multiple reasons in recent seasons, the position group has seen demand in free agency increase greatly, and that has led to a rapid increase in salaries in recent seasons. While increasing quarterback salaries draw most of the attention, the league has actually seen a faster growth in the amount of salary cap space allocated to offensive linemen than to quarterbacks. The numbers at OverTheCap.com are not 100% accurate, but they are close enough to give a ballpark idea of wage growth, and this is how salary growth for each of the two groups looks from 2015 to 2019.

Cap allocation towards QBs and offensive linemen from 2015 until 2019

Position Group 2015 Combined Cap Hits 2019 Combined Cap Hits Increase Cap Increase
Position Group 2015 Combined Cap Hits 2019 Combined Cap Hits Increase Cap Increase
Quarterback $411,956,553 $575,751,354 39.8% 31.4%
Offensive Line $678,131,023 $1,033,978,898 52.5% 31.4%

Further, in looking at the growth of top end salaries for offensive linemen, while we are all aware that the salaries at the high end have grown, the second tier has seen significant growth as well.

Offensive line salary allocation growth by cap hit

O-Linemen cap hit 2015 2019 Group Growth
O-Linemen cap hit 2015 2019 Group Growth
$12M or more 1 14 1300%
$10M or more 8 25 213%
$7.5M or more 17 48 182%
$5M or more 45 72 60%
$2.5M or more 84 120 43%
$1M or more 143 185 29%

In short, while elite linemen used to be able to command top dollar with their Pro Bowl and All Pro laden resumes, the groups behind them are now earning far more than they used to. This is what leads former NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz to state the Seattle Seahawks soon-to-be free agent Germain Ifedi will likely sign somewhere for $12M.

Regular readers will know this comes as no surprise to me, as I’ve long been vocal about my belief that Ifedi will be paid handsomely when he reaches free agency. The simple fact is that the offensive linemen who get paid the most as free agents often share certain traits, specifically:

  • They’re under 30,
  • They have been multi-year starters on their former teams,
  • Were a high pick or played for the Patriots.

Ifedi is still young enough that he has yet to reach the age of peak performance for NFL offensive lineman as he’ll play next season at just 26 years of age, and he obviously still possesses the physical and athletic traits that made him a first round pick.

The list of offensive linemen, specifically tackles, set to be free agents who meet the above criteria this offseason is not long. They are:

  • Jack Conklin,
  • Germain Ifedi,
  • D.J. Humphries and
  • Greg Robinson

and that’s about it. There are certainly other tackles that are slated to hit the market, including experienced veterans such as Andrew Whitworth, Donald Penn, Brian Bulaga and others, but all of them are far closer to the age at which tackles retire than in their prime. That makes one time All Pro Conklin the prized target in free agency when it comes to tackles, with Ifedi and Humphries to be in the mix as more heavily pursued free agents when the market opens.

Just like in 2019, once Trent Brown was signed by the Oakland Raiders to a four-year, $66M contract, the suitors who had missed out were left to fight over Ja’Wuan James, who wound up signing a four-year, $53M deal with Denver. In 2018 it was Chris Hubbard to whom the Cleveland Browns gave a significant contract after Nate Solder was made the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history, and in 2017 it was guys like Ricky Wagner and Matt Kalil who got paid after the Los Angeles Chargers signed Russell Okung to a contract that made him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history.

Whether or not Conklin will be able to top the $18M per year that Lane Johnson recently signed for to become the highest paid lineman in NFL history certainly remains to be seen, but once a team is in the running for Conklin at north of $15M or $16M, then the psychology of adjusted expectations takes over and Ifedi at $12M to $14M could begin to feel like a bargain.

There will be no shortage of teams looking for help on the offensive line this offseason, and teams are flush with more than $1.2B in available 2020 cap space per Over The Cap. That seems likely to once again create a robust free agent market for offensive linemen, and that likely means players like Ifedi and George Fant getting paid far more than many Seahawks fans exist. So, while Ian Rapoport hit the nail on the head last spring,

Seattle fans may soon get to start the process of developing a right tackle from scratch all over again.