Farwell mending, indications point to return

Linebacker Heath Farwell's value stuck out like a sore thumb on special teams when he wasn't available in 2008. Now that his knee is recovering nicely from a torn ACL in August, the unrestricted free agent is getting indications that the Vikings want him back.

Linebacker Heath Farwell has been told that the Vikings want him back in 2009. That's one step in the right direction, but there is still the matter of a contract being worked out for the first-time unrestricted free agent.

Last year at this time, Farwell was scheduled to be a restricted free agent and wound up signing a one-year tender worth $1.475 million. This year, both sides will have to agree to terms of a contract with Farwell's unrestricted status.

"We haven't talk any negotiations, but I actually just got done with a meeting with Coach Childress and he says he wants me back," Farwell said last week. "So that's a good sign. As far as contract, no, we haven't got into anything."

Of course, Farwell could opt to test the free-agent market, but he said, "I'd like to be back here, but we'll have to wait and see what happens."

Despite leading the Vikings in preseason tackles in 2006 and 2007, Farwell hasn't had much of an opportunity on defense in Minnesota. However, his value to the special teams became crystal clear in 2008.

Farwell missed the entire regular season after tearing his ACL in the first preseason game. Without their 2006 and 2007 Special Teams MVP available, the Vikings went on to set an NFL record with seven touchdowns surrendered in 2008.

"Losing Heath was huge. There's no way around it. When you lose your ace, that's a pretty big blow," said kicker Ryan Longwell. "Kickoff coverage wise, since the New Orleans game, I think we've been top five in the league. So we've really improved there from where we started out. Individually we all had good times, but obviously giving up returns at the wrong times can cost you and you never want to give up scores in special teams."

Four of the seven surrendered special-teams touchdowns came on punt returns.

"Our MVP ace last year and special teams captain, just not having him out there obviously kind of hurt us," punter Chris Kluwe said of Farwell. "I knew it was going to be big because he's also one of the leaders on the special teams. Just having him out there kind of gives that extra little energy going. I'm really hoping he's going to be back here next year."

Of course, Farwell remained his humble self when asked about his absence on the special teams in 2008.

"It would be tough to say if I would have made a difference if I was there or not. Another guy out there might help, but I'm not Superman out there," he said.

But here are the statistics to help prove Farwell's value:

  • In 2007, he set the franchise record with seven special teams touchdowns in one game (against the Giants).

  • He is the only Viking to recover two onside kicks in a season, tying the career franchise record as well.

  • He led the team in special-teams tackles in 2007 (32) and 2006 (25) and has 70 special-teams tackles in three active seasons with the Vikings.

    All those statistics are great, but for the last five months Farwell's focus has been on making a full and quick recovery from his knee injury.

    "I'm doing everything I could before. I'm sprinting, doing back-pedal, shuffle, change-of-direction type stuff," said Farwell, who said he should be ready to do all the linebacker drills in March.

    He's not quite 100 percent yet, but he is at least on schedule with his recovery.

    "It's not even five months yet and it's a six- to nine-month rehab, they say. I'm 95 (percent), I'd say. I don't have any pain. I can do anything I could before. It's just strengthening it is the only issue I don't have yet. I have strength, it's just not as strong," he said.

    No doubt 2008 was a difficult season for Farwell to endure. He suffered the first major injury of his professional career and was forced to watch on television and from the sidelines while the special teams unit he was supposed to captain again in 2008 floundered.

    All the while, he kept pushing to make one milestone after another in his recovery.

    "IR, being hurt as early as I was, it's kind of a roller-coaster. You go through somewhat of a depression when you first get hurt. You get a little motivation when you get rid of the crutches. Then you're walking on it and then you're eventually running. Now I put the cleats on and I'm sprinting and doing everything I could before," he said. "It's such a long timetable, but I kind of took it as a goal from after the first month of being depressed, and I kind of took it upon myself to think of it as my first game. I'm already prepared for Sept. 6, 2009. We've already got the date picked out. I don't know the schedule, but I'm just going by the Sunday. You've just kind of got to set it where you're at, just set a goal for it."

    Now it's just a matter of finishing the rehabilitation, trusting that he's healed and finding a team with which to sign a contract. He's hoping that's Minnesota, but he isn't surprised that they haven't approached him to start talking contract numbers yet.

    "No, because I kind of figured they would want to see where I was at, see how well my knee was responding and when I was coming back and stuff like that," he said. "I'd like to be back in Minnesota, but we'll have to see what happens."

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