Kansas City Chiefs: Ron Parker
It would be easy for defensive back Ron Parker to say that what kept him going in football after he was cut eight times was the thought of a lucrative contract like the one he just signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Except that wouldn’t be true. Parker said the five-year, $30 million contract he signed Monday to remain with the Chiefs was beyond his wildest thought.
"I never thought about this large amount of money with this contract I just (signed)," Parker said. "It still hasn’t hit me. It’s like a dream come true."
Parker earned his new contract with a breakout season. After being released eight times by three teams before joining the Chiefs in 2013, Parker was a regular last season, playing some at cornerback but mostly at safety.
The Chiefs believe Parker is better as a safety, but Parker’s shining moment last season came as a cornerback. He broke up three passes in the end zone on a late Buffalo drive during a midseason game that allowed the Chiefs to emerge with a victory against the Bills.
Parker spoke with a number of teams as a free agent, and the Atlanta Falcons, much closer to his home in South Carolina, in particular showed a lot of interest. But Parker indicated his preference was to remain in Kansas City.
"During the whole process it never left my heart," Parker said. "I was just dying, wanting to come back. I was hoping the Chiefs’ organization and (general manager) John Dorsey would get it done, because my relationship with the coaches and everybody in the building is unbelievable. I knew I wanted to be a Chief."
One area Parker needs to improve is his tackling. He missed 22 tackles last season, high among Chiefs players, according to Pro Football Focus.
"I’m definitely looking to improve on my tackling," he said. "That’s a must. I’ve been watching video this offseason, and I just noted to myself I have to do a little better job of that.
"It’s basically a mental thing. I missed a lot of tackles last year, but hopefully I’ll be able to clean that up this year."
The total value for the five-year contract is $30 million. Parker would receive $25 million in salary, roster bonuses and workout bonuses. The other $5 million is for incentives involving play time, playoff appearances and interceptions.
The contract includes $8 million in guaranteed money, including a $5 million signing bonus.
As far as the total value, that might be the best contract for a safety who wasn’t drafted coming out of college.
I’d be willing to bet it’s the best contract for a player who had been released from his contract eight times.
He started to deliver on that promise last year for the Kansas City Chiefs, the only one of Parker’s four NFL teams who hadn’t given up on him at some point. Parker, 27, had the classic look last season of a late bloomer who would go on to do good things.
That’s why it would have been a shame if the Chiefs had lots him in free agency. It didn’t happen as Parker agreed to contract terms with the Chiefs.
The Chiefs already lost one such player in free agency this year when center Rodney Hudson signed with the Oakland Raiders. Hudson, as a former second-round draft pick by the Chiefs, had a different story than Parker. He was never cut by any NFL team once, much less eight times.
But it was still difficult for the Chiefs to see him walk out the door. Like with Parker, who joined the Chiefs off waivers from Seattle in 2013, the Chiefs nurtured him and just as he was becoming the player they envisioned when they drafted him, he was gone. Hudson, 25, will have the best seasons of his career for not only another team but an AFC West rival.
That won’t be happening with Parker, and the Chiefs are better off. With Eric Berry trying to beat lymphoma and recently signed Tyvon Branch coming off two straight seasons ruined by injuries, the Chiefs need the assurance at safety that Parker can provide.
The Chiefs have acknowledged they prefer Parker more as a safety than a cornerback. But he can help at corner in a pinch. He started four games at cornerback last year and while he had some rough moments, he also was a star at corner in a midseason road win over the Bills.
The Bills went after Parker late in the game in an attempt to overcome a four-point deficit, but Parker didn’t budge. He broke up three passes during a four-play, red zone stand that allowed the Chiefs to emerge with what, at the time, looked like an important victory.
Whether at corner or safety, look for Parker to have similar moments in the years ahead. He will be having them for the Chiefs and not one of their opponents.
Now comes cbssports.com with a list of five under-the-radar free agents and again, the Chiefs have two players listed. One of them, Hudson, is on both lists. Hudson might be under-the-radar to many NFL fans -- most centers are -- but he's definitely not an unknown to league personnel types looking for help on the offensive line.
That would be a shame for the Chiefs. Parker was cut a total of eight times by the Seahawks, Raiders and Panthers before the Chiefs claimed him off waivers days before the start of the 2013 season.
That move started to pay off for the Chiefs last year. The Chiefs needed Parker as a starter, at times as a cornerback and others at strong safety as the replacement for Eric Berry. Parker was better as a safety but his play at cornerback in a midseason game against Buffalo helped give the Chiefs a much-needed victory. He broke up three passes in the end zone, two intended for Sammy Watkins, as the Chiefs repelled a late Bills drive and held on for the win.
Parker was released eight times, but he's been signed nine, so four teams now have seen something in him. He has the look of a player finally on the way up. He won't be a superstar but a solid player who can help some team win.
But Parker strongly disagreed with a pass interference penalty called on him earlier in the drive. It happened on a third-down play and it allowed the Raiders to extend the possession.
Parker was penalized for bumping into Oakland’s Andre Holmes.
“I really didn’t feel like that was pass interference,’’ Parker said. “Me and the receiver were trying to fight for the ball. I was trying to come back for the ball and the receiver had me blocked out. We were fighting for the ball but the referee saw it another way so he called [pass interference].’’
Parker indicated the Chiefs were warned by coaches during the week about the officiating crew led by referee John Parry.
“We knew coming into the game this crew [called] a lot of interferences and illegal [contact] and all that,’’ Parker said. “We got a heads-up early in the week before we came to the game. It didn’t work in our favor.’’
The Chiefs entered the game as the second-least penalized team in the NFL in both number of infractions and yards. They were penalized seven times for 59 yards against the Raiders. The seven penalties matched their season high.
“The refs were real tough on us today,’’ Parker said. “They didn’t give us a break.’’
“We loved him,’’ Carroll said. “Imagine what would have happened if we didn’t like him. He was a really good kid for us and battled with a bunch of guys. He was a young pup with all the rest of them. It’s great to see him playing so well and being such a big factor for [the Chiefs].”
Parker had been released eight times, including twice by the Carolina Panthers and once by the Oakland Raiders, before joining the Chiefs last year. This season, he has been one of the Chiefs’ most valuable defensive players.
He replaced the injured Eric Berry as a starting safety in the second game of the season and played well in Berry’s absence. Last week, with Berry back in the lineup for the first time, Parker shifted to cornerback and made several clutch plays to help the Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills 17-13.
Parker could be having that kind of impact for the Seahawks. But because Seattle has so many good defensive backs, he never had the chance.
“We’ve had really good depth for the last couple years here, so it’s been hard to make the team and he was certainly right in the mix,’’ Carroll said. “That’s why we kept bringing him back, because we were trying to figure out a way [for Parker] to stay with us.”
Parker, by my count, was released eight times by three different teams before joining the Chiefs off waivers, of course, from the Seattle Seahawks last year. But he wouldn’t give up on himself.
“Many guys do give up,’’ Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “That’s not his personality, not his makeup. He’s a persistent guy. I joke with him because he’s a twin so he’s been battling for the refrigerator. Who’s going to get there first? It started then.’’
Just as important, the Chiefs didn’t give up on Parker, either. They had reason to give him his ninth release over the summer but continued to work with him instead.
They were rewarded with solid play from Parker this season when he replaced the injured Eric Berry as the starting strong safety. Parker then played his best game in Sunday’s win over the Bills in Buffalo.
He shifted to cornerback and was asked mostly to cover Buffalo’s sensational rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins. He did that well, forced a fumble in the third quarter to prevent a Buffalo touchdown and then broke up three passes in or near the end zone on Buffalo’s late scoring threat.
Parker looked like a candidate for release over the summer. He had been starting at cornerback but hadn’t played well and was benched.
“It was a weird thing,’’ Reid said. “During the (offseason practices) and the early part of camp he was playing great at corner. Then he kind of went through a little phase there where it wasn’t working for whatever reason. It wasn’t working at the corner spot. That’s where the persistence thing comes in. He battled through that. He got himself back on track at the corner spot and then we moved him. Then he got forced into action at the safety position. I think if you asked him back then he’d tell you that safety is his more natural position. I think now he feels comfortable at both of them.
“He’s come quite a way. We ask him to do quite a bit. He’s playing two, three different positions and playing them well.’’
Meanwhile, Smith intercepted a pass in his first play as Parker’s replacement against the Bengals and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown. Though the differing levels of play between Parker and Smith weren’t enough to prompt the Chiefs into a lineup change, Sutton indicated such a move might not be far off.
“There’s far less separating them than it might appear," Sutton said. “I hope they make it a hard decision. That would be the best thing for us. That would be great."
Smith started 15 games for the Chiefs last season, plus the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Parker was a backup except in the season-ending game against San Diego, when the Chiefs rested many of their starters.
“You want it to be a battle," Parker said. “You want it to be a competition."
"It's never too early," Smith would say later, after the Chiefs completed a 41-39 victory, "to celebrate."
Smith will find out Saturday when the Chiefs return to training camp whether he was also celebrating a return to the starting lineup. But such a move wouldn't be a surprise, given the way Smith and Parker played.
While Smith made one of the game's big plays, Parker allowed one. He was burned by Cincinnati's AJ Green for a 53-yard gain and also was penalized twice for illegal contact, though one of the calls was declined.
Smith also picked up a penalty but more than made up for it with his big interception return.
"Beautiful play," said coach Andy Reid, who wouldn't commit to Smith's return to the starting lineup. "Played physical. Had the one penalty but he had a huge play there. He's been working his tail off."
The Chiefs need Smith in their starting lineup. He's big and can be physical with opposing receivers, a must in the Chiefs' defensive system. He's a much better option for the Chiefs than Parker, a journeyman who joined the Chiefs off waivers last year.
The Chiefs left themselves thin at cornerback when they released veteran Brandon Flowers during the offseason. They need Smith's veteran presence in their lineup more than ever and shouldn't waste any more time making that happen.
NFL Nation reporter Adam Teicher examines the three biggest issues facing the Kansas City Chiefs heading into training camp.
Where is Houston? Having outperformed the contract he signed with the Chiefs as a third-round draft pick in 2011, outside linebacker Justin Houston was absent for all the offseason practices, including the mandatory minicamp. Since Houston’s only leverage for getting a contract extension this year is to stay away from camp until he gets it, it's unlikely he will show without a new deal. That would be a tough blow for the Chiefs. Houston is their top proven pass-rusher and arguably their best all-around defensive player. The pass rush, which was on a record pace for sacks over the first half of last season, sagged measurably after a dislocated elbow caused him to miss the final five regular-season games. The Chiefs would not be left without quality edge pass-rushers. Veteran Tamba Hali, another Pro Bowler, is on the other side, and the Chiefs drafted Auburn’s Dee Ford in the first round. Ford looked promising as a pass-rusher during offseason practice, but it’s a bit much to expect him to immediately be as versatile as Houston. Ford was a defensive end in college and has much to learn before he is on Houston’s level.
Who is at corner? The Chiefs released Brandon Flowers last month, leaving them perilously thin at cornerback. With the exception of 5-foot-9 nickelback Chris Owens, all their remaining cornerbacks are big and capable of getting physical with opposing receivers, as the Chiefs prefer. But the quality is a concern. Veteran Sean Smith steps in as the top cornerback, and he held his own as a starter last season. Marcus Cooper will at least begin camp as the other starter. As a rookie, he played well for the first half of last season as the third cornerback, but his play tailed off badly in the second half, to the point that the Chiefs benched him. Cooper has the physical tools to be a decent starter, but he showed over the final few games of last season that he has a lot to learn. The Chiefs drafted Phillip Gaines of Rice in the third round this year, but during offseason practice it didn’t look like he was ready to contribute. Journeyman Ron Parker played well in his one start last season. But he got a lot of playing time during the offseason and was often exposed.
A rebound for Bowe? In September, Dwayne Bowe turns 30, an ominous age for a wide receiver because that is when many begin to lose their skills. That process might already have started for Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013. Still, Bowe represents the Chiefs’ most realistic hope for improvement at what was largely an unproductive position last season. The Chiefs added former Canadian League star Weston Dressler and drafted speedy De'Anthony Thomas in the fourth round, but they are slot receivers and are merely trying to replace the production lost with the free-agent departure of Dexter McCluster. Otherwise, the Chiefs will go with the same uninspiring cast of receivers as last season, meaning Bowe needs to get back to what he was earlier in his career. That is not an unreasonable expectation. Bowe was never particularly fast, so he doesn’t have a lot of speed to lose. The Chiefs need to do a better job of playing to his strengths, the main one being his ability to find yards after the catch. The Chiefs should get back to the bubble screens that were so productive for Bowe earlier in his career.
- Depth at slot receiver has been eroded. Weston Dressler was the latest casualty when he pulled up after a play and grabbed his left leg. Dressler injured his hamstring and didn't return to practice. He might not return before offseason practice concludes with next week's three-day mini-camp. Other top slot receiver candidates who haven't been working recently include Junior Hemingway (illness), Kyle Williams (rehabbing after last year's ACL surgery) and rookie De'Anthony Thomas (ineligible under NFL rules to begin practice until next week). Frankie Hammond Jr., who spent all of last season on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie, has been getting a lot of the work and making the most of it.
- Running back Jamaal Charles was absent from practice for personal reasons.
- Cornerback Sean Smith is still running second-team because of his demotion for his recent DUI. But Smith had a pair of interceptions in a 7-on-7 drill. He picked off a pass from Chase Daniel that was deflected by tight end Richard Gordon. Smith intercepted another pass when Tyler Bray was late with a throw intended for Darryl Surgent.
- Dwayne Bowe had the catch of the day when he hauled in a pass from Alex Smith despite good coverage by Ron Parker, who is Sean Smith's replacement. Parker was in position to make the interception but didn't adjust to the ball and left a small opening for Bowe to make the catch. Parker got even two plays later when he broke up a Smith pass, also intended for Bowe.
- Safety Daniel Sorensen, an undrafted rookie, showed great instincts when he got a great jump on a Daniel throw intended for tight end Sean McGrath to make an interception.
One of the normal starting cornerbacks, Sean Smith, has been dropped to second team after his recent arrest for DUI. Smith will eventually be back in the starting lineup, but an NFL suspension for violation of the substance abuse policy looms with him.
The other starter, Brandon Flowers, hasn't been participating in offseason practice and it's unclear whether he will show for next week's minicamp, the only mandatory event of the offseason, or even for training camp. The usual nickelback, Chris Owens, is out with an injury.
So while the start of training camp is more than a month away, it's not too early to be alarmed with what's going on at cornerback. The Chiefs ask much of their cornerbacks. They play a lot of press coverage and are often left without much help from the safety. It's not ideal for the Chiefs to have backups in their starting lineup at those positions or be forced to back off the way coordinator Bob Sutton wants to play because they do.
Maybe Flowers eventually shows up, Smith gets promoted back into the lineup and Owens returns healthy. Then the Chiefs can relax at cornerback. Until all of that happens, they need to be concerned.
Owens joins a group of cornerbacks for the Chiefs that includes starters Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith, backup Marcus Cooper and a group of younger, developmental players that includes Ron Parker, who played well in a limited number of snaps last season. That doesn't account for safety Husain Abdullah, who played some at cornerback in 2013.
That's not a drastic change from last season. Owens in effect takes the roster spot of Dunta Robinson, who was released at the end of last season. Robinson played most of his 252 snaps last season early in the year before he was benched for ineffective play.
I have my doubts whether this group is strong enough to compete week in and week out. The drop in Flowers' play last season was troubling and could be a sign he isn't a good fit in coordinator Bob Sutton's defensive schemes, ones that require the cornerbacks to play a lot of press coverage.
The Chiefs have to match up next season with, among others, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas of the Denver Broncos. Do you feel better about their ability to do that with more success than they did last season?
I didn't think so. So cornerback is on my list of positions to watch for the Chiefs in the first round this year. If, say, Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State is available when the Chiefs make the 23rd overall pick, it would be a mistake for them to pass on him. While the signing of Owens might make for a good start for the Chiefs in upgrading at cornerback, it shouldn't be the end of their effort.
He will probably land somewhere in between. But whatever happens with Dressler, don’t blame the effort of the Kansas City Chiefs. They signed Dressler, who played the last six seasons with Saskatchewan Roughriders. He caught 442 passes for more than 6,500 yards and scored 43 touchdowns.
General manager John Dorsey has shown a willingness to look in some offbeat places for players. It already paid off to an extent last season when the Chiefs claimed seven players off waivers at the start of the regular season. Three of them – defensive backs Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker and tight end Sean McGrath – helped them win a game at one point or another.
The Chiefs last year signed undrafted free agent Demetrius Harris, a tight end who had been a football star in high school in Arkansas but switched to basketball in college at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Harris is raw and may never develop into a productive player but he’s shown the necessary skills and is worth the minimal investment the Chiefs made in him.
Dorsey also loaded the Chiefs’ practice squad with developmental prospects from small schools like Lane, West Alabama, California (Pa.) and Shepherd in the hope of mining a productive player.
The Chiefs will have to continue with this kind of thinking during the offseason. They won’t have the kind of salary-cap flexibility they’ve had the past few seasons. They probably won’t be able to win any bidding wars in free agency.
Their biggest veteran additions may be role players like Dressler, who could replace Dexter McCluster as the slot receiver and punt returner. It’s a good thing Dorsey is making the effort and he should keep trying even if Dressler doesn’t eventually work out.
Roster (15): Husain Abdullah, Eric Berry, Malcolm Bronson, Sanders Commings, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps, Brandon Flowers, Vernon Kearney, Kendrick Lewis, Jerron McMillian, Ron Parker, Dunta Robinson, Kevin Rutland, Sean Smith, DeMarcus Van Dyke
Potential 2014 free agents: Abdullah, Demps, Lewis.
The position: The Chiefs have much invested in strong safety Eric Berry and cornerback Brandon Flowers. Both are Pro Bowlers this season. Berry, who will count about $11.6 million against their salary cap in 2014, played like one this season. He is perhaps the best strong safety in the NFL but he comes at a cost. His contract is the one he signed as a rookie under the old collective bargaining agreement in 2010, when those selected near the top of the draft were paid like stars.
Flowers didn’t play like a Pro Bowler for much of the season. He will count $10.5 million against the cap this year, a figure far too high for what the Chiefs received from him in 2013. The Chiefs should keep Flowers unless a better alternative comes along at a lower price, an unlikely scenario. Still, Flowers is one player who must do better in 2014.
Elsewhere at cornerback, the Chiefs have Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper. Smith is a capable veteran. Cooper started his rookie season by playing well and then faltered over the season’s second half. Having another capable backup at corner wouldn’t hurt. Berry is the only safety with much experience so the Chiefs have plenty of work to do there. Lewis was the starting free safety last season, but his contract is up and the Chiefs shouldn’t give him big money. The Chiefs liked Commings, a fifth-round draft pick last season, before he broke his collarbone early in training camp. It ruined his rookie season but don’t be surprised if he’s the starting free safety next season. The Chiefs would be wise to bring back Abdullah and Demps as backups if the price is reasonable. Abdullah can play some nickel corner if needed.
The Chiefs should keep: Abdullah, Berry, Commings, Cooper, Demps, Flowers and Smith.
The Chiefs should dump: Bronson, Kearney, Lewis, McMillian, Parker, Robinson, Rutland and Van Dyke.
Free agency/draft priority: The Chiefs will need some more bodies here for depth if nothing else. But they don’t need to spend a lot or use a high draft pick on a defensive back.