Ron Parker has taken the long road to NFL respectability. Since going undrafted out of tiny Newberry College in 2011, Parker has been cut eight times, played for four different teams and had multiple opportunities to doubt himself.
So on Saturday morning, when Parker received word he was about to receive a five-year, $30 million contract from the Chiefs, it was not only a big moment for him, but for his family back in Beaufort, S.C., as well.
“It was shocking, the looks on everyone’s face was like ‘Wow,’” Parker said during a conference call with reporters. “They couldn’t believe it, and it was like a dream come true to the family. Everyone was just crying, excited and happy to move on with my career.”
By Monday, the high of it all had not worn off, either.
“I feel like I’m still dreaming today,” Parker said. “I never thought about the money part of the game that deep. I just love the game and just love to play, but I never thought about a large amount of money with this contract I just signed. I just want to give the glory to God.”
A compelling argument can be made that Parker earned the deal, which according to his agent, Justin Turner, is the richest for any undrafted safety.
In 16 games last season, Parker, 27, led the Chiefs with 84 solo tackles and finished second in pass deflections with 12. Both were career highs.
Parker, who made $645,000 last season, flip-flopped between four starts at cornerback and 11 at safety.
Although he only had one interception, his ability to cover a lot of ground and properly diagnose the deep route combinations that tortured the Chiefs in 2013 played a role in their pass defense skyrocketing from 25th to second in the league.
Parker said he was not sure what position the coaches had in mind for him, though general manager John Dorsey said after the season that Parker is a better safety than corner.
“I don’t really have a feeling for which way they are leaning,” Parker said of his 2015 position. “I’m just ready for whatever, ready to get the season on the road.”
Before he was claimed by the Chiefs in 2013, Parker spent time with the Seahawks (for three separate stints), Raiders and Panthers.
“The times I got cut, I just knew the reason wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough,” Parker said. “I think it was due to an injury or something. I always kept a strong head and just stuck with it and kept a strong mind and kept going. I never thought my day would be done.”
Parker caught the eyes of Chiefs coaches in a reserve role in 2013, then started in 2014, first at cornerback and then at safety when injuries struck at that position.
“That’s the real me,” Parker said of his performance in 2014. “I feel like that’s the me all along. I just had to get the opportunity and the Kansas City Chiefs gave me the shot. I showed my talent last year with starting the full season.”
That’s part of the reason Parker insisted he wanted to stay in Kansas City. He said the Atlanta Falcons — who are much closer to his hometown — were the other team that showed the most interest.
“During the whole process it never left my heart,” Parker said. “I was just dying and wanted to come back here and was hoping that the Chiefs organization and John Dorsey could get it done, because, just my relationship with the coaches and everybody in the building is just unbelievable. It never entered my mind to think about going somewhere else.”
The Chiefs signed Tyvon Branch on the first day of free agency Tuesday, but with starters Eric Berry battling lymphoma and Husain Abdullah set to enter the final year of his deal, retaining Parker was key to maintaining the chemistry of the secondary. Also Monday, Kurt Coleman, the Chiefs’ fourth safety last year, signed with the Carolina Panthers.
Parker still has areas he wants to improve.
“If I have to play safety this year, I am definitely looking to improve on my tackling,” Parker said. “That’s a must, that’s something I’ve been watching footage of this offseason. I just missed a lot of tackles last year. Hopefully I will be able to clean that up this year.”
Parker couldn’t be happier about the task ahead.
“Like I said, I feel like Kansas City is my home,” Parker said. “I just love the Chiefs and the organization and everybody in the building. It wasn’t hard for me to make that decision … they make me feel like I’m at home. I don’t know if any other organization could make me feel that way.”