Headline reads: "Fair Well With Farwell: Seahawks Special Teams Standout Certainly Doesn't Suck"
Parody song sings: "Heeeeeath. Faaaaaar. Well- Eeeeeever you are, I believe that the Hawk does go on"
It's hard to get much juice when you squeeze the Football Outsiders' fruit in May or June or pretty much any month in the offseason. It's not the database of information that Pro Football Reference is, the history only stretches back so far, and really I only crave new information from FO. But I was browsing the site today and I did come across a recent article listing the leaders in special teams tackles and "Return Stops" (tackling the returner before he reaches the average line to gain) and noticed a familiar name near the top. You probably have no idea who I am talking about, I haven't given nearly enough clues and for that I am sorry. I'm not Steve and the Seahawks aren't a dog named Blue.
Per FO, Heath Farwell tied for fifth in the league with Return Tackles at 16 and tied for fourth in Return Stops with 13.
Of course, we knew this when Seattle signed Farwell to replace Allen Bradford back in October of 2011. He's never started a game at linebacker in his seven seasons. He's good for maybe a couple of non-special teams tackles a year. He's a special teams guy, and that's all that he is. Sometimes when he's all alone in the locker room, he'll hear his fathers voice in his head saying "You're a special teams guy, Heath. You're a special teams guy, Heath. You're a special teams guy, Heath." and it haunts him.
Haunts him all the way to the Pro Bowl!
Maybe he'll fall just shy of the regular players Hall of Fame but he'd be a candidate for the "Guys that only play special teams Hall of Fame" out there in Can't-on, No-hio. Because Heath Farwell is 31-years-old, has never started an NFL game, wasn't drafted, and wasn't gunning to do anything in football other than play on special teams, and has enjoyed a career longer than the vast majority of players to have ever signed an NFL contract. He's been in the league at least twice as long as the average NFL player and the average player has a role on offense or defense, unlike Heath.
He's been in the NFL for the same amount of years that Deuce McAllister was in the league. For longer than Dan Morgan and Adam Archuleta and Joey Harrington and T.J. Duckett and DeShaun Foster were in the league. He's collected million of dollars over the last eight years, and he's "only" here to play on kicks and punts and he even went on Suze Orman once in 2009 to discuss what best to do with his hundreds of thousands of dollars that he got for tackling Devin Hester and others. This guy knows exactly what he's doing in his special teams career.
I'm not saying that he probably wouldn't like to get on the field more, but Farwell's been very smart about his career. He was looking for the path of least resistance:
Asked about his continuing excellence on those units, Farwell offered, "It goes way back to college, when most guys wanted to get off special teams when they started playing on defense or offense. I was one of those guys who wanted to play special teams and knew that was going to be my ticket to the NFL and my ticket to staying in the NFL."
How many college athletes were too prideful to play on special teams? Players that get cut in August because the team doesn't need any more linebackers. If Farwell's competition was just Mike Morgan and Malcolm Smith and Korey Toomer for a starting outside linebacker job, he could be in a lot of trouble. Because he's older, more expensive, perhaps more prone to injury, and probably not much of a defensive player. But instead his competition is Bradford (irony? no.) and John Lotulelei and Ty Powell and Kyle Knox and Craig Wilkins and other guys most people don't know are on the team.
Well to be fair, it's Farwell plus about a million bucks against the competition, and that's really his biggest obstacle at the moment. As Davis pointed out, Farwell (would be ~$1.3 million in cap savings) and now the team has to really weigh the difference between that additional million dollars and what kind of boost Farwell gives you as a special teams player. Because as much as fans can appreciate the "blue collar NFL athlete" that "didn't have the talent" to make it with the pros, he's still playing the most thankless job in the league.
Oh sure, we'd all thank Heath if we saw him on the street, but then again how many among us would recognize him on the street? A veteran NFL player on your favorite team, and I wager that most wouldn't pick him out as a Seahawk if you saw him at Gold's Gym. But I do feel like when you start to appreciate what he's done in his career and what he can do, it gets harder to see the team without him.
From that Seahawks.com article above:
"I’ve covered as many kicks as probably anyone in the league," Farwell said.
"It’s not just running down the field and playing hard, a lot of my stuff I get done in the classroom during the week," he said.
Russell Wilson-dedication on learning his responsibilities and getting better.
The story that Robinson, Maragos and Schneider keep coming back to when questions are asked about Farwell is a kickoff-coverage play against the Rams in St. Louis in Week 4. "On the field, Heath alerted everybody, ‘Hey, watch the reverse,’ " Schneider said. "Sure enough, they did a reverse and Heath made the tackle on the 5-yard line."
It’s the preparation. It’s the repetitive nature of what he does, coupled with the fact that there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. But it’s also the want-to trumping the can-do, and toughness obliterating finesse.
And on Farwell's first career punt block, that came against the Niners in 2011:
"He's a guy that likes the quick release and tries to get out ..." Farwell said, referring to Costanzo. "We practiced it all week. I would kind of flash my hands (acting like) I was holding him up -- I'm primarily a hold-up guy. So I got an opportunity to kind of flash my hands and things held up and I went around him and it worked like the way it did in practice."
There are also conflicting reports on the total number of special teams tackles, but Farwell's been credited with leading the league in that category at least once and was the Vikings first special teams Pro Bowler since 1985.
So you do start to get an appreciation that Farwell isn't just an expendable special teams player just because he plays on special teams. Heath Farwell is the Andy Lee of special teams, non-punter division. (Andy Lee is the Michael Robinson of punting. (Michael Robinson is the John Stamos of fullbacks. (John Stamos is the Wanya Morris of television acting. (Wanya Morris is the Tom Brady of Boyz II Men.))))
He's the best. But because it's special teams, that's why he "only" makes $1.5 million this year and it's also why we're still considering cutting him. Probably the most difficult part about this for a guy like Farwell, is that it might come down to him versus special teams co-captain Michael Robinson. Davis pointed out that the team could save Robinson and Paul McQuistan by releasing Farwell and others. So then if it really came down to it, is Robinson or Farwell the more valuable option to keep?
Robinson has to compete against Spencer Ware and Robert Turbin for a job, and is also a cap hit of $2.5 million without any dead money. But he's Mike-Rob and the Real Rob Report and Marshawn Lynch's lead blocker and the glue! Is that enough to overcome the $1 million difference in cap hit? Or is it enough for Farwell to just be an outstanding special teams player?
It's going to be a difficult decision, to be certain.
Headline reads: "Mike-Robbed: Fullback dressed in full black to mourn his release"
"Here's to you, Mr. Robinson: Thank you for seducing us"