The fourth-year receiver could have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

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Twenty months after Tyler Lockett spent Christmas Eve in a hospital room wondering for a few minutes if he’d ever play football again, he signed the contract of a lifetime.

“This is the day you wait for,” Lockett said Wednesday after signing a three-year extension with the Seahawks. “Words can’t even explain how I feel.”

Lockett’s deal reportedly includes $20 million guaranteed and a base rate of $31.8 million and a maximum value of $37.8 million

The contract not only validated Lockett hard work to recover from the broken tibia and fibula he suffered in a gruesome incident against the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 24, 2016, it was also a vote of confidence from the team that he is indeed all the way back and worth paying more than $10 million a year to keep.

Lockett’s new deal makes him the 21st highest paid receiver in the NFL on an average per year basis, according to OvertheCap.com.

The receiver made it through all 16 regular season games last year even though he said he played last season at “75 to 80 percent.”

Lockett has played sparingly in the preseason this year. But that’s been by design, with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll saying the team has no worry that Lockett is back to his pre-injury form.

“He’s in great shape now,” Carroll said. “He’s ready to go and we’re really happy to be able to reward him with that (contract).”

Lockett on Wednesday recalled that when he first broke his leg “the first question I asked was, ‘Can I still play football?’ “

Lockett said he wasn’t concerned about money at the time, but was more shaken by the realization of how much he’d miss football if he could never play again.

“I realized at that moment that if I couldn’t play anymore there were so many regrets that I would have had,” said Lockett, who is entering his fourth season with the Seahawks. “So many things that I focused on that I shouldn’t have even focused on or thought about. I should have just come out here and enjoyed playing football.”

Lockett can now do that with the assurance that he is set for life — he said his mother is coming to town to help him celebrate.

Lockett was a third-round pick in 2015 and entered this preseason in the final year of his rookie contract — a four-year, $3.3 million deal. He becomes the second player Seattle has re-signed this summer who could have been a free agent following the 2018 season. In July, Seahawks signed left tackle Duane Brown for three more years.

Carroll said re-signing Lockett was part of the team’s long-range plan.

“It’s been a part of the process and the plan that we’ve had to look after our guys and take care of them when we can,” he said. “It’s no different than what we have done in the past.”

Last offseason, Seattle didn’t extend receiver Paul Richardson, a 2014 second-round pick who ultimately signed a five-year deal worth up to $40 million with Washington. That move was viewed at the time as a sign that the Seahawks had picked Lockett over Richardson as a young receiver they planned to keep around, but some wondered if Seattle might get through the season first and see how Lockett plays in better health.

Instead, the Seahawks struck quickly, ultimately giving Lockett the same guaranteed money that Richardson received from Washington, and also about $2 million more in average-per-year, with the ability to again become a free agent in four years, at age 30.

Lockett on Wednesday referred to Richardson as one of his best friends and said, “We talked about this all the time. I’m just happy that he got his taken care of and I got mine taken care of.”

Lockett, who will turn 26 in September, has 137 receptions in three NFL seasons, and had 45 receptions for 555 yards and two touchdowns last season.

On Wednesday, Carroll stressed his admiration for how Lockett handled his recovery.

“It broke my heart to watch him have to fight through the rehab throughout the year because he’s a guy that wants to be on the field every minute,” Carroll said. “He’s the first guy on the field and the last guy off and he wasn’t able to (do that). It just accentuated what it took for him to work through that.”

Lockett has also been Seattle’s primary kickoff and punt returner and will likely continue in those roles. He has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt, something that was a priority for the Seahawks when they traded up in the draft in 2015 to take him. (Carroll, in fact, noted that no player in the NFL has more total yards — meaning receiving and running as well as returning — than Lockett. ESPN tweeted that Lockett leads the NFL with 5,274 total yards.)

“They traded picks to come and get me,” Lockett said. “They showed me they wanted me here. From what I know in the draft they were the only team that told me I could do both returns and play receiver.”

Seattle has some other pending free agents, notably Frank Clark, K.J. Wright and, well, Earl Thomas, who remains a hold out.

Clark is generally considered the next most likely player to get an extension.

Lockett said when the team approached him about the extension, Carroll told him, “You know, you exemplify everything that we want in a Seahawks player and we don’t want you to be any different? We don’t want you to change. We want you to continue being the person that you are because being the person that you are is why we want you to stay here.'”

That may have simply been a statement about Lockett. Or maybe, considering some of the other moves the Seahawks have made this offseason, a statement about something larger.

For Lockett, it said all he needed to know.

“The fact that they were willing to give me an extension because they see me in their future, that says a lot,” he said.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll talks about signing Tyler Lockett to an extension.