PHOENIX, Ariz. -- So I was stumbling through the final few minutes of Super Bowl XLIX media day when I ran into Heath Farwell, a 33-year-old linebacker who by all rights should have been watching from home. It's not often, after all, that the Seattle Seahawks -- or any other NFL team -- stash a well-paid veteran to prevent him from leaving the franchise.
In Week 3 of the preseason, Farwell tore a groin muscle and suffered a sports hernia while in pass defense. Doctors pegged his recovery time at between eight and 10 weeks, and Farwell knew what was next. Despite his value as a special-teams ace, Farwell figured the Seahawks wouldn't want any part of paying his $1.5 million base salary while he missed at least half the season.
"I talked to my agent, and we were preparing to be released with an injury settlement," Farwell said. "That's how things go in this league. And then Pete came and talked to me."
Indeed, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had a different idea. An injury settlement effectively would have ended Farwell's association with the team; NFL rules prevent a player from returning until six weeks past the expiration of an injury settlement. Instead, Carroll proposed a trip to injured reserve and a new role as a quasi-coach. The arrangement allowed Farwell to earn his full salary, rehabilitate his injury and receive an invaluable glimpse into the future he thought was still a few years away.
Farwell's primary responsibility was to mentor rookie linebackers Brock Coyle and Kevin Pierre-Louis, but he also absorbed the full weekly structure of coaches -- dawn-to-midnight hours, staff meetings and everything in between.
"I couldn't believe how much time goes into creating a 20-minute presentation for players in meetings," Farwell said. "It's unbelievable. That's why this was a no-brainer. I can learn, see what my future holds and still be around the team. It was an inside glimpse of what most players don't get to see."
Farwell said he wants to play in 2015, but rare is the NFL team that wants to pay market value for a special-teams player in his mid-30s. The Seahawks seem likely to have at least one opening on their defensive staff if, as expected, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn departs next week to be the Atlanta Falcons' head coach and the Seahawks promote one of their position coaches into the role.
"Coach Carroll never mentioned what's going to happen going forward," said Farwell, who started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. "I think there will be an opportunity to play at some point, but honestly I believe Coach Carroll will hopefully have an opportunity for me to join the staff, whether it's next year or in two years or this year."
This is how NFL franchises can differentiate themselves. Every offseason, teams search the coaching landscape for help. They'll sift through the veteran names, consider suggestions from prominent agents and more often than not hire someone from another organization.
Why? Isn't a stable franchise best served by promoting those already familiar with its program? Farwell's 2014 season was his fourth with Carroll and the Seahawks. If and when he joins the staff full-time, he'll be ready.