Parker, long a subject of trade talks, remains a Dolphin partly because of wide receiver needs and partly due to the Dolphins hanging on to a thread of hope that he can achieve some of the potential that prompted the team to select him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Miami still hasn't given up the hope that Parker can turn his potential into consistency.
In Thursday night's blowout loss to the Houston Texans, Parker reminded us, the Dolphins and himself just what that potential looks like on the field. After missing five of the first seven games of the season, he caught six passes for a career-high 134 yards. For the first time this season, he looked like a No. 1 receiver.
"I already know who I am as a player," Parker said. "I still got the talent."
But too often, that talent hasn't added up to consistent production because of injuries or lack of intensity. That's why it's a scary proposition to believe what we saw from Parker last Thursday will become the norm.
For 3½ seasons, the Miami Dolphins have bet on Parker's potential to be a No. 1 wide receiver. For 3½ seasons, they have been disappointed. It seems more likely than not that in the final eight games, Parker will be some form of what we've seen over his tenure in Miami -- flashes of brilliance with heavier splashes of injury and underwhelming performance.
"A couple things haven’t gone his way. Some of it is out of his control," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said, referring to the broken middle finger and injured quad that cost him four games. He missed the fifth in Week 7 in a coaches' decision.
But the allure of his potential is so tantalizing, especially as receivers collect some of the biggest salaries in free agency.
"They've seen flashes of it when I was healthy," Parker said of his potential. "And I try to stay that way, but they know what I can do."
It seems unlikely at this point that Parker will earn the fifth-year option that the Dolphins picked up in April. It's worth $9.387 million, guaranteed only for injury until the start of the 2019 league year in March. The Dolphins and Parker need each other in these next eight games, even if their future after that period seems more uncertain.
Parker said he got a huge boost of confidence from Thursday's game. The Dolphins created a game plan with Parker in mind, and he rewarded them with a big performance. He even cracked a wide smile when discussing his 46-yard pinball catch that bounced off Jakeem Grant and flew 13 yards into his waiting hands for a third-and-11 conversion.
"I had a feeling he was going to have a big game. He was hungry to get out there on the field and he really showed it tonight," quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "DeVante played a heck of a game and he deserves it.”
Players in the locker room have noticed Parker's frustrating battle with injuries and want to see him do well. They also know that it's time for him to produce. Miami will need Parker to play the way he did last Thursday as they hope to make a playoff push with a banged-up team, one that won't have Albert Wilson, their most dynamic playmaking receiver. The opportunity will never be bigger for Parker.
At some point, typically by their fourth season, a player's potential comes into focus. A player just becomes who they are. Parker has eight games to turn his potential into consistent production -- whether for the Dolphins or his next team.