Will Parks had arguably his best year as a pro in 2019 playing in Vic Fangio's defense. With the Denver Broncos also having to weigh the risk/reward of paying another safety who balled out in a contract year in Justin Simmons, Parks slipped through the cracks of free agency and signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with his hometown Philadelphia Eagles this past spring.
Simmons, ultimately, was franchise-tagged, which gave the Broncos a little more rope, or breathing room, to discern whether his top-5 safety play was a one-year wonder or bonafide. Parks, on the other hand, was solid in Year 1 with Fangio, but far from the transcendent impact player that Simmons was.
Suffice to say, things didn't pan out for Parks in Philly as the Eagles waived him earlier this week. With Bryce Callahan suffering a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve, the Broncos saw an opportunity to bolster an increasingly beleaguered secondary by bringing back the experienced Parks.
Despite a couple of other teams also putting in a waiver claim on Parks, the Broncos were awarded him on Wednesday. Considering that the Broncos had the chance to re-sign Parks this past spring on what would have been a relatively team-friendly deal (based on the contract he accepted from Philly), it is curious that the team chose to bring him back now.
But then again, as we learned from head coach Vic Fangio on Thursday, Parks may have been looking for a bigger role than what the Broncos were willing to offer him. Fangio answered definitely why the Broncos chose to reunite with Parks this late in the season.
“Will's a guy that we liked. He's versatile. We like him as a player. We like him as a person," Fangio said on Thursday. "I think he's excited to come back here and we'll see exactly how he fits in. Will played the nickel position for us last year, played the dime, he can play safety."
I asked my co-host of the Huddle Up Podcast on Wednesday night Zack Kelberman if the Broncos would have brought Parks back if Callahan hadn't been lost to injury. Fangio confirmed my suspicion.
"One thing with losing Bryce, we've lost some versatility in our secondary because although Bryce had been playing corner the last few weeks exclusively, he can also play nickel, obviously," Fangio explained. "So, our nickel depth has gone down some, so we needed some versatility to bring back to replace Bryce.”
It also helps that Parks is universally loved by the Broncos' locker room. That made the decision all the easier for the Broncos to strike while the iron was hot.
“It's a bonus. Anytime you pick up a guy this time of year, usually, it's a guy with not much or if any history with the organization he's coming into. Obviously, that's not the case with Will," Fangio said. "He left here last year because of an opportunity to go back home to Philly and it didn't work out for him there and as many players find out, the grass isn't always greener. I think he's very happy to be coming back here. What role he'll play when he's eligible to play, which will start next week providing he passes all the protocols, I'm not sure yet.”
Indeed, the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Fangio's remark implies that Parks' departure wasn't just a monetary decision; the defensive back thought he was being underutilized in Fangio's scheme.
Maybe there's some truth to that. But with Kareem Jackson already making $11M APY, and Simmons hitting unrestricted free agency at the same time, the Broncos had to prioritize and Parks drew the short straw.
Now, he's back. Based on an Instagram Live stream on Wednesday night, Parks is thrilled to be returning to Denver — the team that drafted him in the sixth round back in 2016 and where some of his best friends in the world reside — including Simmons.
“It’s great," Simmons said of Parks' return on Thursday. "This is a guy I came in with and spent a lot of time with. Unfortunate what happened in Philly, but selfishly, I’m really happy he’s back here and having the opportunity to close out the season with us. He’s a great player, and more importantly and selfishly for me, he’s an even better friend. Having him around the past four years has been awesome. I’m excited for him to be back.”
Simmons and Parks came in together as members of the Broncos' 2016 draft class. Branded the 'Baby No Fly Zone', the two never really blossomed into the free- and strong-safety duo that the Broncos envisioned. But Parks is a remarkably versatile DB and can help Fangio out a lot with his knowledge of the scheme, intensity, and ability to play safety and nickel.
Parks won't be available to play this week vs. the Kansas City Chiefs as he'll have to pass through the six-day COVID-19 testing process before he can enter the Broncos' facility and be cleared to play.