Parker's return an intriguing possibility
January 4th, 2010
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After looking like the Willie Parker of old instead of an old Willie Parker in the Steelers’ 30-24 win against the Dolphins, the free-agent-to-be running back offered mixed messages when it comes to his future.
“Hopefully I’m here next season because it’s a blessing, me coming here and being part of a great organization,” Parker said.
But the sixth-year veteran also said, “I want to thank the coaches and my teammates for embracing me and blessing me to be part of such a great organization.”
If I had to set odds on Parker donning a Steelers uniform again I’d put them at no better than 50/50 -- and that might be optimistic.
He is clearly eyeing a bigger role than the one he had following Rashard Mendenhall’s emergence, which came after a toe injury sustained by Parker in late September provided an opening for the 2008 first-round draft pick.
But Parker, 29, also has to be realistic. He has six seasons of wear and tear on his 5-10, 209-pound frame. In two of those seasons he averaged 329 carries.
Teams aren’t likely to line up to sign someone who has taken a lot of hits and plays a position that is rarely associated with longevity in the NFL. And where Parker covets a chance to start again -- “If you think about it every running back wants to be the starter,” he said. -- the two-time Pro Bowler may not get the chance to carry a running game as he did in 2006-07.
NFL teams are increasingly relying on more than a back in the running game, and Parker might have to accept being part of a rotation if he signs elsewhere.
In the end, re-signing with the team he has been with for his entire career might make the most sense for Parker and the Steelers.
Parker showed against the Dolphins that he still has the kind of burst that helped him become the Steelers’ third all-time leading rusher. With Mendenhall out because of a leg injury, Parker gained 74 of his 91 rushing yards on the Steelers’ final drive.
He still has value as insurance for Mendenhall and could be a complement to the second-year back if the Steelers ever decide to go that route.
Parker, who made $4 million this season, would have to take a pay cut to return to the Steelers. But the Steelers would also have to give assurances to Parker that he will be more than an afterthought in the offense if they want to re-sign him.
“I’ve wanted to get more than three or four carries a game all season,” Parker said, “and run the ball and just be me and make plays.”
Surely the Steelers can design packages that get Mendenhall and Parker on the field together. And if other teams can make two-back approaches work, why can’t it happen here?
That is the most significant question the Steelers will have to answer to Parker if they truly want him back.