Heading into this off season Willie Parker was fairly certain that he'd hit the free agent market and there was some thought that he'd be the best and most accomplished running back available in free agency. Parker, on the brink of his 30th birthday and still under the belief that he's a starting running back in this league, was hoping for one final decent pay day from a team looking for a veteran running back but his value may have dropped significantly over the past 48 hours. With similarly aged and much more accomplished veterans LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook being cut or released in the past two days, FWP might have dropped from first to third on the wish list of team's looking for running backs. So how will this affect Parker's free agent plans and could this increase his chances of returning to the Steelers?
First we should probably state one assumption: If FWP, LT and Westbrook are healthy heading into next season (Westbrook is a question mark considering his concussion problems last year), they probably each look at themselves starting running backs and they're liking to pursue contracts and playing time guarantees that would reflect that belief. What that means is that we're going to assume that each is looking for a team that's willing to pay them at least four to five million per season (and understandably we're talking about a relatively short contract, possibly even one season) and at least the guarantee that the starting job is theirs to lose heading into training camp.
With that quick assumption stated, I'm left wondering just how many teams in this league could be looking for a 30-something year old running back. While there are probably at least a handful of teams who will enter free agency and the draft with "starting running back" atop their wish list, it'll be interesting to see how the market treats these three backs. Just one year ago we saw three accomplished 30-somethings, Edgerrin James, Warrick Dunn and Deuce McAllister, sit around and wait for calls that simply never came. James finally accepted a part time role with the Seahawks but I'm sure 46 carries in seven games wasn't quite the season he was expecting to have.
If we can use history as any indication, there's a good chance that one or perhaps all three of these guys will have to lower their expectations (both in money and in playing time). With FWP seemingly at the bottom of this totem pole, you've got to wonder how all this affects him. Will he be the first lower his asking price and in turn secure a decent role as a decent team's number two back? If he accepts the idea of taking a part time role would he be more inclined to return the team that he's played for his entire career? Will he simply be stubborn and wait until some team loses their starter to injury during camp or early in the season?
Also, is there anyone who thinks Parker isn't third on this list?