Jan 1, 2012, 9:54 AM EDT
Of all the active players who could be wearing midnight green into battle for the final time on Sunday, defensive end Juqua Parker stands out the most. Believe it or not, Parker has been with Philadelphia since 2005, a tenure that spans seven seasons. Only Jamaal Jackson has played for the Eagles longer.
Parker becomes a free agent in March though. He’ll turn 34 in May, and with Pro Bowlers at both ends of the defensive line, plus several talented youngsters champing at the bit, Parker has become expendable. The chances of him returning are essentially non-existent.
As a fan, the natural inclination might be to shrug your shoulders. Parker never became a star. He didn’t author any especially memorable plays in franchise history. He didn’t win a championship here. There is nothing really special about him at all.
While those things are all true, Parker was a serviceable player who built a surprisingly nice career here, albeit one that will go widely overlooked.
Parker began his career with the Titans as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State in 2001. Despite spending four seasons there, he never started a game. Four sacks in ’03 were then a personal best for Parker, but he came away empty-handed the following season. His contract was up, as was his time in Tennessee.
Parker would not wind up joining the Eagles until training camp was already under way in the summer of ’05, but still managed to make the 53-man roster. For the second season in a row, he failed to record a sack, but the front office brought him back on another one-year deal. What exactly they saw in this Juqua Thomas — his given name which he later changed at his deceased father’s request — was no doubt a mystery to most observers.
Whatever it was, it finally clicked.
Parker made the most of his limited opportunities during the ’06 season, breaking out with six sacks — more than he totaled through the first five years of his career. The Eagles rewarded Parker with a five-year extension, and when Jevon Kearse wasn’t cutting it in ’07, Parker ultimately took his place in the starting lineup, where he remained for the majority of the next three seasons.
In ’08, he was honored as the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week against the 49ers, when he sealed the deal with a 55-yard touchdown return on a fourth quarter interception in a 40-26 win. In ’09, he went on to set a career high in sacks with eight, which is not a tally to sneeze at. This season, he’s returned two fumbles for touchdowns.
In all, Parker has played in 104 regular season games for the Eagles — only Mike Patterson has appeared in more among current Eagles — and started 46. Over that time, Juqua has 31.5 sacks, tied with Mike Mamula(!) for 13th in franchise history. With two sacks on Sunday, he could move in to the top 10.
But that’s not likely to happen, not with Jason Babin shooting for the team’s single-season record, and reliable Trent Cole on the other end. Parker’s playing time diminished drastically this season, his sack total dipping to a meager one and a half as a result. With Brandon Graham, Philip Hunt, and Darryl Tapp lobbying to see more action, there simply isn’t room for all of them.
Regardless, it’s not so difficult to understand what Andy Reid and Jim Johnson saw in Juqua Parker after all. He is and always was a hard worker who made few waves off the field. He persevered, and because he never gave up, he actually carved out a lengthy NFL career for himself.
A lot of fans have lamented there aren’t any likable players on the Eagles, or very few at least. Sure, it’s easy to forget about role players like Parker, but in many ways, he is the epitome of a true Philadelphian’s athlete.
A resilient overachiever.
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