Let\’s go back in time to September 5th, 2004 when Willie Parker out-dueled Dante Brown for the final running back roster spot of the 2004 season. Parker was buried behind Jerome Bettis, Duce Staley and Verron Haynes at the time and spent most of the 2004 season on the inactive list. Parker continued to work hard and thanks to injuries to both Bettis and Staley, Parker got his shot and opened the 2005 season as the starting running back. Parker never looked back and took the league by storm with his blazing speed. He was living the dream of an undrafted free agent running back that culminated in a Super Bowl ring against the Seattle Seahawks. Before the start of the 2006 season, Parker was rewarded with a four-year, $13.6 million contract from the Steelers that included a $3.75 million signing bonus. At that time, he was among the highest-paid players on the team and the new contract prevented him from becoming a restricted free agent at the end of the 2006 season.
Fast forward now to this upcoming season, where Parker enters the final year of that contract. He remains entrenched as the starter even as his yards per carry average has fallen every year since making the roster. He continues to struggle running inside the tackles and his short yardage efforts are very inconsistent. To add to that, second year running back Rashard Mendenhall and rookie Frank Summers seem destined to take quite a few carries from Parker this season to save the wear and tear on him. All of this adds up to Parker barely having a shot at a 1200 yard season in 2009. Parker will surely want a bigger contract than his last one, regardless of how the season plays out and it is doubtful the Steelers will give it to him. Parker will be 29 heading into the 2010 season and if a salary cap is indeed in place by then, the Steelers will have more pressing needs with other free agents.
The Steelers are hoping to get back to a more power styled running game with the combination of Mendenhall/Summers and Willie will be left out in the Pittsburgh cold. There is no doubt Parker will do everything in his power to play through the pain this season as he is running for one last pay day in the NFL. Barring something catastrophic happening to the backs behind him, the man we have come to love and know as Fast Willie Parker will be only a shining memory in Steeler history. If Parker had been cut on that September day in 2004, the Steelers might not have Super Bowl wins 5 and 6. Steeler Nation will never forget you FWP, here is to a fantastic 2009 season for you.