BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As the Elam family arrived in Buffalo hours after cornerback Kaiir Elam was selected No. 23 overall by the Bills, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells shared details over the phone about Kaiir's new home.
“[Parcells] was like, ‘These people come to these games on Friday night and tailgate [until Sunday],’” former NFL safety Abram Elam, Kaiir’s father, said.
Abram, who played seven NFL seasons, has his own memories of Highmark Stadium -- he made his only career pick-six there on a 92-yard return when he was with the New York Jets in 2008.
Kaiir is the latest branch from a family tree of NFL defensive backs that includes his father and his uncle, Matt Elam, a 2013 Baltimore Ravens first-round pick. Kaiir looks to follow in their footsteps with a clear path to a starting role on last season's No. 1 defense. On a team with few needs, he can fill the largest remaining hole.
Kaiir has relied on lessons learned from his father, uncle and even Parcells to get here. Their support played a part in the Bills adding him to the roster and prepared him to succeed at the next level.
“I'm very happy that he went to Buffalo, because I know [Bills defensive coordinator] Leslie Frazier, and I spoke with Leslie about Kaiir before the draft a little bit,” Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach, told ESPN. "I just don't think he could have gone to a better place.”
Kaiir is entering the NFL far more knowledgeable about the pro experience than most 21-year-olds thanks to Parcells' feedback.
The Elam family is based in Riviera Beach, Florida and lives about 30 minutes from the Hall of Fame coach. Parcells watched Kaiir's games with the Florida Gators and gave him notes afterward.
“He doesn’t care if I had the best game of my life,” Elam said of Parcells during his combine meeting with the Bills, according to video on the team's YouTube channel. “He called me like, ‘You gave him too much cushion. I feel like you could have taken these guys out of bounds.’ Just little things like that to help me achieve my goals right here.”
Another way Parcells went out of his way to help Elam was to give a quick call to a certain quarterback in Buffalo.
“I know Josh Allen a little bit,” Parcells said, “And I did call Josh and ask him to kind of keep an eye on Kaiir for me and he said he would.”
What does Parcells like about Kaiir's game? The former coach pointed to his length (6-foot-1, 30 and 7/8-inch arms), ability to run well and game-preparation skills. Those, Parcells said, come from his dad.
“It's really not complicated,” Parcells said. “[Abram] was trying to give his son the proper direction, both educationally and athletically, and he's tried to give him that. And fortunately, he has the experience to do that.”
When Kaiir was in elementary school, he'd go to The Swamp to watch his uncle play for the Gators. But Kaiir wasn't allowed to play football himself until middle school. His parents wanted to keep him from getting injured, but also did not want to force him into the sport just because his family played it.
Matt said that allowed Kaiir to fall in love with football himself and find the motivation and discipline from a young age to put in the required work.
“He earned it. Kaiir was a chubby little kid, but he made sure he got his body right. When he got to high school … he locked in,” Matt said.
Said Kaiir: “I always begged to play, but it didn't come true until eighth grade, and in order for me to play football, I had to run track. It's something that I feel like it really paid off and helped me as a player and as a person. And I appreciate that from my dad.”
Abram came to the NFL as an undrafted free agent, signing with Parcells' Cowboys in 2006. Abram started 71 games for four different teams over his career, including a second stint with the Cowboys in 2011.
He’s remained close friends with Parcells and the pair talk almost every day. Abram now works to help other players be successful on and off the field by consulting through The Elam Model, which extends to Kaiir using his family and others to support him instead of a traditional agent.
“They called me the blueprint," Abram said, "but I say [Kaiir] and Matt, they took the plans [for success], and they enhanced it."
Matt, a safety, was drafted 32nd overall. He lasted four seasons in Baltimore, playing in 41 games, but he struggled with injuries and inconsistency. He has worked in the CFL and XFL since 2018, currently playing for the Edmonton Elks.
“Kaiir's gonna have a great career, because he's a good kid and he's not into a lot of things,” Matt said. “... I mean, a lot of young kids his age, get a lot of money and see the flashy cars, the jewelry and all that stuff -- that's not going to excite him because he's seen it already. That's why Kaiir is the person he is. He's so humble, he's so gentle, he's so calm because he has seen it.”
Matt and Abram sharing their experiences with Kaiir about the good, bad and everything in between that comes with playing in the NFL can only better prepare the rookie.
“I was able to learn from their mistakes and I think that really benefited me," Kaiir said. "So, if I make those same mistakes they made, it's like a double sin for me 'cause I got to learn from them, their firsthand experience and they're super blunt, super honest with me.”
They told Kaiir about taking advantage of every opportunity, and that each moment he is in the Bills facility is an evaluation.
"As fast as you come in, you can leave as well," Kaiir said.
That guidance has remained with him. He has trained with his uncle over the years, and has worked on improving his tackling technique with his dad.
But for all the advice Kaiir has received, he has been something of a role model himself. Matt describes his nephew as someone other people look up to, including Kaiir's friends as he was growing up. Kaiir encourages Matt to get better in order to reach his goal of playing alongside his nephew in the NFL.
“He pushes me, he motivates me now,” Matt said. “I was his motivation. I pushed him, but the tables turned.”