Seattle Seahawks

From Heath to “Coach” Farwell: Seahawks make unique, injured-reserve offer to keep veteran around

Heath Farwell figured he was done.

Done with playing for the Seattle Seahawks. Done with playing in the NFL. Just done, ready to go home to Newport Beach, California, where he keeps a beach house with his wife Julie and their sons, 3-year-old Brock and 1-year-old Beau.

That’s because during an exhibition game against Chicago on Aug. 22, the 32-year-old backup linebacker and Seattle’s 2013 special-teams captain raced back into the south end zone of CenturyLink Field to defend a long pass. He leaped for the ball — then heard a pop. He felt searing pain in both his upper legs and collapsed to the turf. He had bilateral core-muscle tears in his groin. His season, and likely his 10-year career, were over. The injury is considered not only career-ending but one that threatens one’s quality of life after football.

The usual custom in the NFL is for a team to pay a player with such a long-term injury and no future a lump-sum payment — an injury settlement, as defined by the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The team waives him as injured, immediately making him a free agent able to sign to play for any other team should he eventually return to health.

Another alternative, the injured-reserve list, is usually for younger players who, unlike Farwell, are under contract with a team beyond the current year.

Farwell has been in the league a decade. Both his groin muscles were shredded. He has no immediate playing future.

“I’m literally still walking,” he said, a month after his injury and surgery. “I mean, I can only do push-ups off my knees right now. That shows you where my rehab’s at.”

So no, there are no long-term plans for him as a Seahawk or for him on any other team.

Yet the Seahawks kept him.

At Farwell’s lowest point, depressed over his career likely ending, coach Pete Carroll walked up to him in the Virginia Mason Athletic Center and asked: “You want to stay and help lead these guys? You had said before you were interested in coaching. This would be a great opportunity to do, to learn.”

Carroll and general manager John Schneider then placed Farwell on injured reserve. That allows Farwell to continue to draw his weekly, in-season salary of $73,529 — one-seventeeth of his veteran pay of $1.25 million. An injury settlement would have given him a fraction of that in a one-time or limited-term payment. He continues to have daily access to the team’s state-of-the-art training facilities and medical staff, assets he would not have had with a settlement.

For the players, it’s impressive. It’s compassionate. And in a league where health and contracts are not guaranteed, it’s unheard of.

“Yeah, that’s something I’ve never heard of a team doing,” Farwell said before Seattle’s bye week ended Sunday night. “It’s pretty cool that they care about me that much, that they want me to be around here. It means a lot to me, it really does.

“I’ve been in this league for 10 years. I’ve talked to many guys, been around this league for a long time. And I’ve never heard of a team doing this for a player.

“They’ve been unbelievable to me.”

This is the kind of behind-the-scenes move that creates long-term loyalty and dedication within the franchise. Each veteran sees what the Seahawks are doing for Farwell and realizes he, too, is one injury away from possibly losing his livelihood — and from being as appreciative of such a gesture as Farwell is right now.

“I was so down, so negative,” said Farwell, who has played in 42 games for the Seahawks over 2½ seasons. “Then Coach Carroll offered this, and it was so positive. There are great positives coming out of it, in the long run.”

For Carroll the idea was simple.

“We didn’t want to lose him. We like him being around here,” Seattle’s fifth-year coach said. “I think he could add his spirit and what he brings to the game could be shared with younger players and it could be very effective.”

Carroll’s been treating Farwell in a special way since he arrived from Minnesota as a free agent in the middle of the 2011 season.

“When he first came here we talked about him being a coach someday,” Carroll said. “So at the time I told him, ‘OK, I’m going to talk to you a little differently than other guys. I’m going to drop stuff on you as we go through it and give you some insights and things as we’re going along.’ So it started kind of down that road, and it’s been in my mind that this could happen.

“I think he’s a natural. He loves the game. ... He’s really a smart football player, savvy guy, has really worked hard to understand the game from a player’s perceptive. Now, he offers younger guys that perspective, as well as what we can instill in him as he’s moving along. He’ll be a great coach.”

To hear Carroll tell it, Farwell already is. Carroll has noticed the rapid improvement on special teams of DeShawn Shead, Derrick Coleman, Mike Morgan and rookies Brock Coyle and Kevin Pierre-Louis.

He credits that to Farwell coaching them from a uniquely fresh players’ perspective. After all, until a month ago Farwell had the jobs they are doing.

I do think that having Heath around is a part of transferring the importance of special teams on to these young guys and how they can approach it and the outlook that it takes to be an effective special-teams guy,” Carroll said. “Heath lives that. He’s been able to convey that to some guys and with these new opportunities.

“This early in the season, they’re already playing better than some of the young guys that will play because they’re not making mistakes and they’re really heady and he’s been a factor there. So we’ve gotten really good play and the transition from the guys that we’ve lost.”

Farwell acknowledges the likelihood his playing career is over.

“Yeah,” he said. “I haven’t explored where I’m at as far as my playing career, but this is definitely the direction I’m headed. It’s just a matter of, is this the beginning stages of my coaching career?

“I’m learning it’s a lot harder to coach ... than you anticipate. I know the cliché is: You can be a great player, but a great player is only as good as his best coaches. I get it. I’m learning to communicate it, because I understand the game. But communicating it is a whole ‘nother deal.”

Farwell did explore the possibility of taking an injury settlement from Seattle and playing for another team later this season. Last month he went to Philadelphia to the Vincera Core Physicians group to see Dr. William Meyers, a renowned expert in core-muscle injuries. Teammates Malcolm Smith and Zach Miller have seen Meyers there.

Meyers found 50 percent tearing in one groin and 25 percent in the other. The surgeon tore the muscle, folded it and re-sewed it — then told Farwell he couldn’t play until perhaps December.

That essentially ended his thoughts of playing in 2014 — and set him up to jump-start his coaching career.

“Yeah, we could have done a settlement. But I didn’t know where I’d be at physically. And I wanted to be a part of this team. That was the key,” Farwell said. “And Coach Carroll and his staff wanted me to be a part of it, too. They said they wanted me around here. And if you do a settlement, you can’t be around here. That was part of it too.

“I didn’t have a desire to go somewhere else,” he said. “So I’m just kind of helping out wherever I can, special teams, sitting in linebacker meetings. It’s been great just being around these guys. This team is special.

“Obviously, I’d rather be playing, rather help this team that way. But if I can’t be doing that, then this is the next best thing.”

So if that leaping play last month against the Bears was his last one in the NFL, he’s content. He’s still contributing to the Super Bowl champions, in the potential start of a new career.

“If it is over, I’m proud of what I’ve done,” he said. “I’ve played 10 years. I’ve been to a Pro Bowl. Won a Super Bowl. If I’m done, I’m done.

“Right now, I’m just focused on helping these guys win.”

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