When it came down to it, Heath Farwell got what just what he wanted out of free agency, and maybe more.
Farwell was able to visit other teams, see what was out there and field other contract offers, but in the end the familiarity of the Vikings – and the best contract offer – won out.
Farwell re-signed with the Vikings on Friday, inking a three-year, $7.75 million contract with $3.25 million in guarantees.
“It was a good chance for me to see other teams. When I entered free agency, I wanted to take a look at the opportunities elsewhere and see what was out there. I had good visits with (New England and Cleveland),” Farwell said. “Meeting with (Patriot coach Bill) Belichick and the Patriots was a good experience. They’ve got a lot of tradition over there. I went to Cleveland and really liked Cleveland. (Browns coach Eric) Mangini was really good to me. They really wanted me and they thought I fit well in their system. They were really interested in getting me. I really enjoyed my trip there, got a lot out of that one.”
“It was a tough decision, but I’m glad to be back. This is where I started in the NFL. The Vikings (brought) me into this league. I make a home here in Minnesota, and me and my wife are excited to be playing here.”
Farwell joined the Vikings four years ago as an undrafted free agent and has grown into one of the NFL’s best special teams players, leading the Vikings in special-teams tackles two of the past three seasons.
Last year, Farwell suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the preseason opener and missed the rest of the season. That made it more difficult to determine his free-agent prospects, but he said the MRIs and other medical tests all came back with a clean bill of health.
He had been working out at the Vikings’ Winter Park facility until he officially became a free agent last Friday. He returned this Friday to sign his contract after testing the market.
“I knew the Vikings would be involved because they saw me rehab every day. They saw the hard work I was putting in, they saw my progress,” Farewell said. “I didn’t know, and I guess that’s part of testing the market. You don’t know where your market value is.”
The Cleveland Browns are believed to have made Farwell a significant offer, which helped the Vikings determine his market value, but Farwell said Minnesota made the best offer, making his decision easier.
“It even exceeded my expectations. It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t what I got. I’m excited about it. I guess it just shows the appreciation the Vikings have for what I can do for this team and the hard work. It all comes down to my hard work in rehab and they know the player I can be.”
Farwell wanted to see if he could find a team that would let him compete for a starting job on defense, but ultimately he knows his role with the Vikings is as a valuable backup that can play all three linebacker positions.
"Heath is a good football player, was our special teams captain and he’s a pretty good linebacker,” said Rick Spielman, Vikings vice president of player personnel, shortly before the deal was announced. “He probably would have jumped in with the injury to E.J. (Henderson) last year and played a lot. He’s got more value to us than just as a special-teams guy and he fits this scheme very well in what we try to accomplish from a defensive standpoint."
Cleveland and New England both run a 3-4 defensive scheme and Farwell felt comfortable returning to the Vikings’ 4-3, Tampa-2 defense.
“When it came down to it, I like it here in Minnesota. I enjoy the team. We have a great team. We won the division championship and I wasn’t even a part of it,” Farwell said.
The fifth-year player was selected by his teammates as the special-teams player of the year in 2006 and 2007, when he finished with 25 and 32 special-teams stops, respectively. He also owns franchise records for the most special-teams tackles in a game with seven (at the N.Y. Giants on Nov. 25, 2007) and the most single-season and career onside kick recoveries with two.
Last year, without Farwell, the Vikings set a dubious NFL record by allowing seven special-teams touchdowns, four of them on punt returns.
Since then, former special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro moved on to become a defensive coach with the St. Louis Rams and former assistant Brian Murphy was promoted to the coordinator’s post.
“I think it’s all going to be fine. It’s a new year. … It just didn’t work out last year. I’m going to come back and hopefully I can lead that group. I take pride in special teams, so that’s going to be my assignment,” Farwell said.
“… Hopefully just a new face (Murphy) in there, a new intensity. Just a new face and a change maybe will help to hopefully get the most out of all the players.”