Redskins sign former Steeler Parker for one year
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Two days ago, Willie Parker thought it was odd the Washington Redskins were still interested in him, still talking to his agent. They had signed Larry Johnson in free agency, and he figured that made him a moot point.
Today, Parker is a Redskin, the former Steelers starting halfback joining the former Penn State halfback in Washington's backfield, which also includes Clinton Portis. Parker, the third-leading rusher in Steelers history, agreed to a one-year contract Friday and became the first unrestricted free agent from the Steelers to sign elsewhere.
A day earlier, he mentioned that he and his agent were "trying to get the best deal and best fit for me. We're negotiating with a couple of teams. Washington is still trying to get me."
The Redskins had Parker in for a visit early in free agency, which began March 5, but instead signed Johnson to a three-year contract March 12. Johnson, 30, also was an unrestricted free agent, from the Cincinnati Bengals, whom he joined last fall after he was suspended and then released by Kansas City.
Before he signed, Parker acknowledged that teams likely would not consider him a starter, but said he would compete to do so.
"I have a starter's mentality, wherever I go," Parker told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
He admitted that his little use by the Steelers last season in favor of Rashard Mendenhall had left him "a little salty" and had talked recently to coach Mike Tomlin about matters. He would not rule out returning, but the Steelers never made him an offer.
Parker, 29, opened his fifth consecutive season as the Steelers' starting halfback, but a toe injury in the third game opened the door for Mendenhall, and he took full advantage of it. Mendenhall, drafted in the first round in 2008, ran for 1,108 yards last season with a 4.6-yard average per carry. Parker ran for 389 yards on 98 attempts.
But Parker will go down as one of the most unexpected success stories in franchise history, a starter in two Super Bowls who holds that game's record with a 75-yard touchdown run that helped the Steelers beat Seattle in Super Bowl XL. Undrafted after a college career mostly as a backup at the University of North Carolina, Parker signed with the Steelers in 2004. By '05, he was their starting halfback and he surpassed 1,200 yards rushing three years in a row, 2005-07.
Parker ends his Steelers career with 5,378 yards rushing, third most in franchise history. His 6,075 yards from scrimmage running and receiving rank sixth in history.
He holds the team record with 223 yards rushing in one game (vs. Cleveland Browns, '06) and became the only back in their history to twice rush for 200 yards (213 vs. New Orleans Saints, '06).
His 1,494 yards rushing in '06 ranks third in team history, and he owns three of the top eight season rushing totals by a Steeler. Parker made the Pro Bowl twice (after the '06 and '07 seasons), although he had to withdraw from the latter because of a broken leg suffered on his first carry in the 15th game, when he was leading the league in rushing.
Parker expressed some surprise Thursday that no one had yet signed him, but said it was typical of his playing days going back to college.
"People looked over me my entire life," Parker said. "I'll just have to prove people wrong."
First Published April 3, 2010 12:00 am