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'Make it work': Seahawks' Tyler Lockett credits early career adjustments for big payday

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SEATTLE -- To Tyler Lockett, one of the most memorable moments of his career came during one of the Seattle Seahawks' most forgettable games of the past decade.

It was against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2 of 2016, Lockett's second NFL season. He hurt his knee on an awkward landing in the second quarter, forcing him to the sideline for what he feared would be the remainder of the afternoon. But he returned in the fourth quarter, hauling in a 53-yard pass from Russell Wilson to give Seattle late life in what turned out to be a 9-3 loss.

"I told Russ to throw me the ball," Lockett recalled. "And he said, 'Well, what percentage are you feeling, like [what] out of 10?' And I don't remember what I said. I think I said like seven and he was trying to figure if that was good or not. I was just like, 'Throw it. I'll catch it.' He threw me the ball and I caught it.

"That was probably my favorite play because I did not think I was going to be able to go back in. And people were shocked and I was shocked because I went out there thinking I wasn't going to play and I went back in the game and caught the ball."

That play came up when Lockett spoke with reporters last week for the first time since signing a four-year, $69 million extension earlier this month.

"The reason why I tell that story was because I've learned you've got to learn how to make it work," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. You never know what adversity is going to come your way but you figure out how to make it work."

The 28-year-old Lockett has been making it work en route to three consecutive seasons with at least 950 receiving yards and four straight without missing a game. That helps explain why the Seahawks felt comfortable giving him $37 million in guarantees, big money that is not common for receivers his age.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, that's the fourth-highest amount of guaranteed money ever given to a wide receiver who's 28 or older. The only such receivers to get more guarantees are Julio Jones ($66 million at age 30), Keenan Allen ($50 million at age 28) and DeAndre Hopkins ($49.4 million at 28).

The $17.25 million in new-money average of Lockett's extension ranks 10th among current wide receivers, according to Spotrac, and represents a huge raise from the $10.55 million APY of his 2018 deal. That three-year extension Lockett signed that summer initially seemed steep for a player who had topped out at 51 catches, 664 yards and six touchdowns over his first three seasons. But it was an indication of the Seahawks' prescient belief that he was about to break through after slogging his way through 2017.

Lockett made it back in time for that season's opener despite suffering a compound leg fracture in Week 16 of 2016 but estimated that he was only 75-80% of his usual self all year.

"That sucked," he said. "But I had to learn how to be able to make it work. I had to learn how to walk. I had to learn how to crutch around. I had to go through the process and even after that I couldn't sit on my butt and complain about what I missed out on or what didn't work out for me. I had to come back and figure out how to be able to play my best ball maybe not feeling the way I ... used to feel. I had to learn how to still get open. I had to learn how to still beat people man-to-man."

Since 2018, Lockett's 28 receiving touchdowns are fifth-most among NFL wide receivers, while his 3,076 yards rank 13th. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he has the second-highest catch percentage over expectation (plus-12%) among players with at least 200 targets in that span. That knack for the improbable was never more evident than when he turned in the most productive game of his career -- 15 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns in an overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals last October.

In the Thursday night rematch the next month, Lockett played through a sprained knee on a short week, catching nine passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. That kept alive a consecutive games streak that now sits at 64 (68 including playoffs). The only regular-season game he's missed in his six-year career was the 2016 finale, a week after he broke his leg.

With that combination of availability and production -- along with no off-the-field issues -- general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll might have considered a lucrative third contract a much safer bet with Lockett than it would typically be with a receiver his age.

But in order to see the end of his extension, Lockett might have to -- as he would say -- make it work with whatever speed he loses on the other side of 30. He's scheduled to make a non-guaranteed $16.9 million with a cap charge of nearly $24 million in each of the final two years of the deal, 2024 and ’25, according to Roster Management System. Those will be his age 32 and 33 seasons.

Lockett has averaged 1,025 yards and 9.33 touchdowns since 2018. According to Pro Football Reference, there have been 30 instances of a player topping 1,000 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns in the same season at 32 or older. One of them was Seahawks legend Steve Largent in 1986. But only one has done it over the past decade: Larry Fitzgerald in 2015.

Lockett actually says he lost a half a step as a result of his broken leg, not that you'd know it.

"But it's not like I need that half a step, it's just I miss that half a step sometimes," he said. "Like I said, you learn how to adapt."