INDIANAPOLIS – For a guy who had just signed a 3-year contract extension the previous offseason, the move to let him go was surprising.
Especially when that guy brought about this quote from his head coach.
“We are appreciative of the way he not only presents himself as a player and as a person himself, but how he represents the Horseshoe,” Frank Reich said this past December of Pierre Desir.
But the injuries, and inconsistencies in Desir’s game last season led to him being a surprise cut back in March.
Would Desir, and his $6.5 million cap savings, have stayed in Indy had Xavier Rhodes not been released by the Vikings on March 13, some eight days before the Colts decided to let Desir go?
The domino effect played out with Rhodes being waived (March 13th), Desir being cut (March 21st) and Rhodes eventually replacing Desir in Indy (March 26th).
“Pierre was tough because he’s such a great kid and human being,” Ballard says of the decision to release Desir back in March.
“But, at the end of the day, we made a decision that we thought was the best thing for the team, this year and going forward.”
That move has the Colts believing Rhodes can get back to being one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks.
Rhodes, 29, chose the Colts largely because of the familiarity he has on the coaching staff, with Indy saving a bit of money at cornerback with Desir exiting.
Colts cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon was a defensive backs assistant in Minnesota from 2014-17. During that stretch, Rhodes was a 2-time Pro Bowler, including an All-Pro honor in 2017. Colts safeties coach Alan Williams was Minnesota’s defensive coordinator back in 2013, when the Vikings chose Rhodes with the 25th overall pick.
Ballard first points to those coaches as the start of reasons on why the Indy staff thinks Rhodes has better play left in his game.
“This guy has been a Pro Bowl corner in the league,” Ballard says. “He’s only 29 years old. He’s got some unique traits. And we think we can get him back to playing at that level.”
In Indy, there’s an opening starter corner job available, with Rock Ya-Sin and Kenny Moore likely mainstays in the nickel package.
On paper, it would appear Rhodes is the favorite to round out that cornerback trio, with 5 defensive backs occupying the nickel personnel grouping.
A popular debate that faces a former first-round pick, who has been released by the team he initially had success with, and is now on a prove-it contract, is how will that motivate him?
Ballard, with first-person insight from Gannon and Williams, sees Rhodes wired in that way.
“I think he’s pretty hungry,” the GM says. “I think being released by Minnesota sparked a fire in him.
“It’s going to be fun to watch him play with a chip on his shoulder. I think he can still be a high performer for us.”