RENTON — Tyler Lockett’s elusiveness is one of his best traits on the football field for the Seattle Seahawks.
But when it came to one of the most sensitive questions facing NFL players these days — did he have any hesitation about playing this season as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic? — Lockett addressed it head-on Friday.
“Oh yeah, I definitely had a lot of hesitation,” said Lockett, who set a career-high with 1,057 receiving yards last season. He is entering the second year of a contract extension that runs through the 2021 season and will pay him $8.5 million in base salary this year.
Lockett had two reasons for taking the NFL’s offer to opt-out for this season (which would have meant his contract tolling, or rolling over to the 2021 season).
In 2015 at the NFL combine he was diagnosed with a heart abnormality — his aorta is on the right side — that for a day or so had him wondering if he’d ever play football again.
The condition is benign, but Lockett said when the pandemic began to spread he wondered how his heart might handle it were he to get COVID-19.
In April, a cousin who is close enough to Lockett that she lived with him for two years earlier in his NFL career contracted the virus.
“It was bad,” Lockett said, who wasn’t sure if his cousin was going to survive.
“She had told me there was one day where her body was just aching so much she had told a woman (a former co-worker) that she really didn’t think she was going to make it,” Lockett said Friday during a Zoom session with reporters. “That (she didn’t know if) her body was going to be able to deal with what she felt for another day.”
Lockett also said many in his family have asthma.
“That’s why it made me question if I wanted to come play,” Lockett said. “I had a lot of stuff in my family to where I don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy.”
Thankfully, the cousin recovered after what Lockett said was a roughly two-week ordeal.
Lockett said he got information from doctors that made him feel comfortable to play.
“That was one of my biggest issues, was just trying to make sure that the type of thing they said I was born with wasn’t going to affect me, if I was going to be able to go out and play,” Lockett said. “Obviously, nobody really knows, so you have doctors who give you what they think you need to know.”
Giving him a final push, he said, was his comfort in the Seahawks doing all they can to keep players safe.
“I had my chance to opt out,” Lockett said. “And I said if I come up here I’m going to just play. I know we’ve got Pete (Carroll). We’ve got a lot of older coaches. They don’t want to put themselves in a situation to get sick, neither. So I told myself if they could do it then I know I could do it.”
Lockett, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said now that he is in Seattle and taking part in training camp, “I’m not going to stress over COVID. I did that from February to before we came into camp.”
But Lockett says dealing with the new realities of training camp — no preseason games, players urged to stay at home or in their hotel rooms as much as possible and having to return to their hotels or homes for Zoom meetings the minute practice ends — requires an adjustment.
Lockett called the time on the field “kind of like recess. It gives us time to be around people.”
But Zoom meetings and being on lockdown in the hotel, Lockett said in a rather frank admission, will mean players will have to be honest with themselves about telling others if they are struggling with feelings of isolation
“You’ve really got to figure out how to deal with these mental health issues that a lot of people don’t know that people have,” Lockett said. “And so I think there’s a lot that’s going to have to take place (to pull off the season). But we also have to be open and talk to therapists and stuff so that we don’t put ourselves in a bad, isolated mindset just to make football happen.”
Now that camp is beginning to start in earnest, Lockett said he’s beginning to get excited for the season and what the receiving corps can be with the additions of Greg Olsen and Phillip Dorsett and the continued maturation of younger players such as DK Metcalf and John Ursua.
“I think we are going to be really, really good,” Lockett said, saying that the team’s added speed is “just going to open up things a lot.
“A lot of teams were used to seeing me do certain things, and they can’t really focus on that a lot anymore because you’ve got a lot of new guys able to do those same things. We’re starting to move people around a lot more so you are never going to know where people are going to line up at and I think that’s where our dangerous weapons are going to be able to succeed.”