Despite NFL free agency not officially opening until March 18th, the offseason is in full swing. With the Denver Broncos possessing approximately $58 million in cap room before making some obvious roster moves, such as moving on from QB Joe Flacco and OG Ronald Leary, there is little doubt that GM John Elway will be quite busy acquiring new talent for the 2020 season.
One reason the Broncos will have so much cap room? The team is set to have multiple previous contributors hit the market, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.
With 2019 starters such as Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, Chris Harris, Jr., and Justin Simmons all poised to be unrestricted free agents this offseason, the Broncos’ cap space will likely be gobbled up quickly as Elway tries to retain or replace previous starters. Some seem obvious, like Simmons returning or Harris, Jr. being on his way out the door, while others seem up in the air.
One of the more uncertain questions pertains to whether Denver will retain Shelby Harris or Wolfe back on the defensive line for 2020 and beyond. One player that has not received the attention of a ‘starter’ but essentially played as one down the stretch this past season is defensive back Will Parks.
While not thought of as a shoe-in ‘starter’ for the Broncos, Parks played a large role for the defense over the 2019 season and, according to NFL insider James Palmer, may have a decent market for his services this Free Agency cycle.
In a conversation on NFL Network, Palmer stated:
"There is another guy in that secondary. One that maybe nobody really knows about and that is safety Will Parks. He is really one of the more versatile guys, along with Chris Harris, on this defense. I have talked to people around the league, there is a market for Will Parks. He played slot corner for them, he is a tough guy that plays everywhere. They consider him a very valuable piece of their defense. He’s a guy that has a sleepy market out there for teams that are interested in him. We know the Broncos already have to pay Kareem Jackson, one of their safeties, and then Justin Simmons their other star young safety that looks like they may have to put the franchise tag on. There is probably no room for Parks. He has a market out there in the league."
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Drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of the University of Arizona, Parks played 75% of the defensive snaps over the final five games of the 2019 season while earning an average defensive grade of 62.6 from Pro Football Focus over that span. Parks took the starting nickel spot from Duke Dawson as a hybrid safety/cornerback of sorts in sub-packages for the Broncos’ defense while also filling in more for Jackson over the last two weeks as Jackson served a suspension for a DUI.
Parks may want to test the market, not only because the Broncos may not be willing to allocate big money to three safeties given a finite amount of resources in a salary cap league, but because he may find a bigger role elsewhere. With Jackson coming off a fantastic season and his first playing a majority of his snaps at safety instead of corner, and the emerging star safety in Simmons who will undoubtedly receive a massive contract from the Broncos, Parks may not only find more money elsewhere but a larger defensive role with another NFL team.
This isn’t to say that Parks would not carve out a large role in Denver either. In an ever-evolving league pitched in an arms race between defense and offense, Parks fits the mold of a team’s No. 3 safety extremely well.
While not the type of player a team would like to leave as a single-high safety, Parks is comfortable playing a deep half-field zone as seen in many Cover 2 and Cover 4 looks, and is equally adept at coming down and playing as an overhang safety or ‘nickel’ in sub-packages. With more and more teams going to spread-quick-pass concepts in the NFL, having a defensive back that can cover in short areas like a cornerback but be comfortable setting an edge and tackling in open space like a linebacker, is becoming a must in combating modern offenses.
Considered by many who are close to the team as a ‘glue guy’ and a locker room favorite, it will be unfortunate for the Broncos if they are unable to retain Parks this offseason. He was emerging late last season, is still young, and his versatility and physicality are huge pluses as a defensive back in Vic Fangio's schemed defense.
The Broncos would be wise to approach Parks and try to get a deal squared away before he truly hits the market, but no one could blame him for taking his talents elsewhere this season in a search for the biggest second contract possible with a larger potential role on a defense.
Despite not being a household name, Parks will have his fair share of suitors across the NFL Landscape this offseason according to Palmer. If the Broncos’ do retain him that would be great for the talent, continuity, and depth of the defensive backfield.
If not, his talent outpriced what the Broncos could feasibly pay for a No. 3 safety on their defense. Hopefully, Parks will be back in Denver in 2020 and beyond, but if not it would be impossible to blame him for moving on to a new opportunity.