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DK Metcalf finally feels ‘normal,’ which could translate into a big season for Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks’ DK Metcalf watches from the sideline during a 27-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 25 at Lumen Field in Seattle.  (Tribune News Service)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – What may be a true sign of progress for DK Metcalf as he enters his fifth NFL season is that he’s finally feeling like himself again.

As Metcalf detailed when he met with reporters Wednesday following the Seahawks’ second of three minicamp practices this week, he is in the midst of what he says finally feels like a regular offseason.

In Metcalf’s first offseason, he was a rookie learning the ropes of the NFL. COVID-19 hit in 2020, disrupting the offseason and making 2021 still feel off-kilter.

Last year, Metcalf was recovering from foot surgery, which held him off the field for most of the offseason while he was negotiating a contract he knew would result in life-changing money, the only question being how much and when it would get done.

Metcalf signed a three-year deal last July worth up to $72 million that included $31 million guaranteed, and, on a per-year basis, makes him the sixth-highest paid receiver in the NFL.

This offseason, the contract is settled, the foot is healed, making this, Metcalf said, the first offseason that “just feels normal” – the first one during which he said he could “take a sigh of relief” and just try to concentrate on making himself better in every way.

“So this is really a true offseason for me now where I can take a break, start building a foundation in the weight room working on conditioning, and then know when we break again (for the summer), it’s going to be (working on) routes,” he said.

Metcalf said another part of that return to normalcy was going back to the workout routine he had during his days at Ole Miss.

“I just went back to what I knew worked in college,” he said. “Conditioning, 110s (sprints), gassers, heavy in the weight room and just (route) technique stuff.”

Metcalf said he isn’t any different physically, but he hopes the work pays off in the fall to help him achieve what he says is a simple goal.

“Win,” he replied when asked what he hopes to do better in 2023. “Win more. Win my one-on-one matchups, and help the team win.”

Metcalf said his return to normalcy includes how he plans to act around teammates in the locker room and practice field this season.

Metcalf revealed that he felt he got outside of himself last season in trying to take on more of a vocal leadership role with the departure of quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner (who returned for a second stint with the Seahawks when he signed a one-year contract in March).

“When you lose guys like Bobby and Russ, you try to throw yourself into roles that you think that you can fulfill,” Metcalf said. “And that just wasn’t my role. That’s (quarterback) Geno’s (Smith’s) role to be a vocal leader. He’s the quarterback, he’s the one calling the plays, he’s the one saying ‘hut.’ And last year (on defense), it was Quandre (Diggs) and Al (Woods, who were captains).”

But Metcalf said he figured out quickly that role wasn’t for him.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf catches the ball for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Lumen Field on Jan. 2, 2022, in Seattle.  (Tribune News Service)
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf catches the ball for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Lumen Field on Jan. 2, 2022, in Seattle. (Tribune News Service)

“I mean, I’ve never done it, so it was just fairly new to me,” he said. “And I didn’t do it for a reason leading up to that point. I’m a guy that works hard and leads by example.”

He says his role now is to treat rookies the way he said veterans such as Wagner did when he was a rookie.

“You have to let them learn on their own and let them come to you for questions and don’t try to tell them anything,” Metcalf said. “Kind of like (Wagner) during my rookie year. He didn’t pretty much tell me anything. He told me that he was going to work out, and I was going to either show up or not. That’s basically what I’m doing to the young guys, showing them what helped me my rookie year, and if it helps them, it’s going to help them; and if it’s not, then it’s not.”

Asked if he felt that impacted his play on the field, Metcalf said no, but added, “I overstepped some boundaries to where if I was just going to lead by example, those boundaries were never touched.”

Still, it may be tempting if the pressure of the contract and trying to be more of a vocal leader might have contributed to Metcalf getting flagged three times last season for personal-foul penalties that all resulted in fines from the NFL after review – a total of just over $61,000, the second most in on-field fines for any player in the league in 2022.

Metcalf turned in a season that was maybe a bit more erratic than anticipated.

He set a career high with 90 receptions, seven more than his previous best of 83 in 2020. And he topped the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career with 1,048. But his yards per target were the lowest of his career at 7.4, and his yards per reception of 11.6 were 1.3 yards lower than any of his first three seasons. His six touchdowns were also a career low, and half of what he’d scored in 2021. He also had seven games in which he was held to 40 receiving yards or fewer, or less than half of his career-high average of 81.4 in 2020, when he was named a second-team All-Pro.

He finished the season on a high, with 10 receptions for 136 yards – one of three games he eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 2022 – and two touchdowns in the wild-card playoff loss to the 49ers.

“I don’t know how you could do a whole lot better,” coach Pete Carroll said after that game.

Now the task for Metcalf is to throw in a little more consistency along with the superlatives.

While the Seahawks will obviously count on Metcalf for a lot this season – his average per year in salary remains the highest in team history aside from Wilson – he also may have more help with the addition of rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba and what the team hopes is the emergence of 2021 second-round pick Dee Eskridge, whose first two years have been waylaid by injuries.

It adds up to a receiver room that, if all goes to plan, could be one of the best in the NFL.

“We are all competing,” Metcalf said. “We all want to see each other succeed. That’s one thing that’s refreshing to see in the receiver room.”