The Seahawks’ conundrum: Pay DK Metcalf more while asking for less?
The Seahawks are in a conundrum.
If head coach Pete Carroll wants to return to an offense that more closely resembles the one that helped Seattle win its first Super Bowl in 2013, there’s certainly a place for DK Metcalf, trade rumors or not. He has a rare combination of size and speed and offers not just a deep threat to take advantage of explosive play opportunities – something Carroll cares about very much – but also a big, physical target to take advantage of mismatches.
But forget the role he can play on the field; quite simply, the Seahawks have a need for Metcalf. Seattle parted ways with both team captains this offseason, quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner, and they need a leader on offense. Metcalf has talked about wanting to adopt a leadership role, recently saying on Kevin Garnett’s “KG Certified” show that “it’s (his) time in Seattle now.” He’s defended quarterback Drew Lock on Twitter and shot down rumors of dissatisfaction or trades.
There’s also the offense you have and the offense you want, and for Seattle that’s been two different things of late. The Seahawks might want to be a run-heavy team, but they have two running backs who, while talented, haven’t been able to stay healthy for a full season. Meanwhile, they have two explosive wide receivers, one of whom finished top 10 in total yards last season (Tyler Lockett) and another who finished fourth overall in receiving touchdowns (Metcalf).
At just 24 years old, Metcalf is younger than top receivers commanding gigantic deals and would still be under 30 after a four-year extension. That would be a lot of money to commit to a wide receiver, but outside of dead cap remaining from Wilson’s trade to Denver, Seattle won’t be paying a newly-drafted quarterback a big salary any time soon.
Metcalf is young, talented, and can be a cornerstone of Seattle’s offense. He might have captured national attention during a monster combine performance in 2019, but he’s held it because he’s a special player. And he deserves to be paid like a special player.
Enter: conflict. Every conundrum needs one.
The price tag for those special players at wide receiver has skyrocketed over the last month. The top contracts at the position now belong to Davante Adams ($28 million per year) and Tyreek Hill ($30 million per year), both of whom were traded this offseason and netted a first-round pick and more for their original team. Consider it the new cost for production in a more pass-friendly league, where these two receivers (along with fellow top-paid receiver DeAndre Hopkins) average around 150 targets and over 1,200 yards per season.
With Metcalf, Seattle could be paying more for less.
In 2013, Seattle was fourth in the league in rushing yards per game (136.8). Marshawn Lynch had 301 carries for 1,257 yards while no receiver had more than 99 targets or 898 yards (Golden Tate). A year later, Seattle led the league in rushing yards when Lynch finished with 280 carries for 1,306 yards, while Doug Baldwin led all Seattle receivers with 98 targets and 825 yards.
The most recent iteration of a run-heavy Seahawks offense – one with a healthy Chris Carson in 2018 – led the league with 160 rushing yards per game. That year, Baldwin led Seahawks pass catchers with 73 targets and Tyler Lockett led the team with 965 receiving yards.
In 2020, Lockett and Metcalf became the first pair of Seahawks receivers to surpass 1,000 yards each in a season since 1995. That’s because Seattle wasn’t leaning on a run-heavy approach, particularly early. It’s because this offense hasn’t been able to see a consistently healthy running back since 2019. It’s also because they had Russell Wilson, who owns the top five spots in the franchise’s single-season passing yards leaderboard.
Deciding whether the Seahawks are better with Metcalf is an easy answer – it’s yes. But that’s not really where Seattle is. The front office instead must decide whether they want to pay him a few million more than they expected for a season – or several – in which he’ll undoubtedly see fewer targets than his top-paid peers.
As with any franchise who makes the pivotal decision to move on from a franchise quarterback, there will be plenty watching Seattle’s next moves. Keeping Metcalf might tell you the Seahawks think they’re closer to contention than critics would believe. What better asset to give a young quarterback? Outside of additional protection up front, that is. It might also tell you Seattle intends to be more explosive, more willing to lean into the pass than it was in 2018.
To trade Metcalf – one of the Seahawks’ last remaining superstars – wouldn’t be without understandable context but would certainly signal a truer rebuild. That journey can bring its own excitement (this month will mark easily the most anticipated NFL Draft for the Seahawks in years) but also plenty of uncertainty. The feeling isn’t new for Seahawks fans, but it is unfamiliar given the franchise’s success over the last decade.
Move on from Metcalf, and the Seahawks must hope they make the most of the draft capital they gain and the vision they have. And, at all costs, avoid letting an offseason of uncertainty become familiar.