INDIANAPOLIS – Life moves fast in the NFL.
A year ago, Pierre Desir was celebrating a new three-year, $25 million contract and enjoying stability for the first time in his professional career.
On Saturday, he was released by the Indianapolis Colts in a move that will save the team nearly $7 million against the salary cap.
It was a surprising departure for the franchise’s 2019 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. In three years with Indianapolis, Desir developed into a locker room leader and a tangible success story.
Claimed off waivers just before the start of the 2017 regular season, Desir earned 29 starts over three seasons and was arguably the Colts’ best cover corner during the team’s run to the playoffs in 2018.
He’ll be particularly remembered for a pair of big games against former Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins during the stretch run that season. In a must-win game at NRG Stadium in November, Desir helped limit Hopkins to four catches for 36 yards and one touchdown. Weeks later in a wild-card playoff game, Hopkins managed just five catches for 37 yards on 10 targets.
Ironically, Desir’s undoing also began against the same opponent.
After dealing with a hamstring injury for several weeks, he returned for a critical prime-time showdown at Houston and obviously was not himself. Hopkins had six catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns in a game the Texans won 20-17 en route to another AFC South title.
General manager Chris Ballard referenced that contest during his end-of-season press conference, where he also acknowledged injuries played a role in Desir’s down season.
“The Houston game was tough ’cause he practiced like three days in six weeks,” Ballard said. “Remember the hamstring, and three days in six weeks and he comes back that Thursday night and really off a week you don’t practice, and then all of the sudden he’s thrown into the mix and, you know, he has some struggles. And, look, when you have struggles in some of those big games, sometimes it steamrolls on you a little bit.”
Desir set career highs with three interceptions and 11 pass deflections in 2019, but his tackles total dipped from 79 during his breakout 2018 season to 50 last year. He played in four fewer games overall (16-12) but made just one less start (12-11).
Multiple reports suggested Indianapolis could look to bring Desir back at a lower cost if the opportunity arises.
But it didn’t take long for at least one teammate to mourn his departure on social media. Kenny Moore II, himself a breakout cornerback after being claimed off waivers in 2017, used his Twitter account to publicly thank Desir for the guidance he’s provided.
“My dawg since Day 1, literally,” Moore wrote. “It’ll never be the same.”
He later added, “this business really is a rollercoaster.”
Desir’s exit opens the door for second-year cornerbacks Rock Ya-Sin and Marvell Tell III.
After being drafted with the 34th overall pick, Ya-Sin played primarily in the nickel package – replacing Moore on the outside when he moved to the slot.
But he did make 13 starts with 62 tackles, one interception and five pass deflections. After some ugly games early, particularly against the Denver Broncos and big target Courtland Sutton, Ya-Sin appeared to find his groove down the stretch.
Ballard was most impressed with the rookie’s work ethic and toughness, the primary reasons he was drafted coming out of Temple.
“I thought the last part of the season he played pretty well,” Ballard said. “He was getting better and ascending. It’ll be a big offseason for him. We’re happy for Rock.”
Tell made the difficult transition from college safety at Southern Cal to NFL corner. And there were predictable bumps in the road.
A fifth-round pick, he passed Quincy Wilson on the depth chart around midseason and wound up playing in 13 games with one start. Tell finished with 26 tackles, five pass deflections and one forced fumble.
“It was a learning experience for Marvell going to corner and asking him to do what we ask him to do,” Ballard said. “I thought he had some really good moments. And then he had some moments that were not so good. We have to even those out going forward. But encouraged by what we saw and we think he has a good future.”