INDIANAPOLIS — Pierre Desir's role in the Colts' surprise playoff push last season was irreplaceable — a fact confirmed Wednesday when Indianapolis re-signed the veteran cornerback to a three-year deal just before the start of the new NFL year at 4 p.m.
The contract reportedly is worth $22.5 million with incentives that can add another $2.5 million.
It's a handsome reward for a player who twice shut down Houston star receiver DeAndre Hopkins — once during a must-win regular-season game in December and again in the wild-card playoff victory in January.
And it comes at terms the team certainly can live with.
General manager Chris Ballard mostly has eschewed temptation on the free-agent market, despite entering the offseason with more than $100 million in salary-cap space. Several contributing players — including wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, left tackle Anthony Castonzo and center Ryan Kelly — have contracts expiring in the next two-to-three years, and Ballard repeatedly has espoused a desire to maintain flexibility to re-sign as many of those players as possible.
In fact, re-signing his own is a core tenet of Ballard's philosophy.
“Eventually what you would like to happen is you are paying your own guys,” Ballard said in January. “You are rewarding the guys in the locker room who have done the right things for you.”
Desir certainly fits that description.
He was the first player ever drafted out of tiny Lindenwood University when Cleveland made him a fourth-round pick in 2014. But it took him three more years to really find a home in the NFL.
Desir played in just 19 games with seven starts in two seasons for the Browns before being claimed off waivers by the Chargers in 2016. He was cut in October after playing just five games in San Diego.
The long climb back began with a stint on Seattle's practice squad to finish the season. The Seahawks saw enough to sign Desir to a futures/reserve contract in January 2017, but he was let go during the final cutdown before the regular season in September.
That's when Ballard came into the cornerback's life, claiming him off waivers one day later.
Desir has played in 25 games with 18 starts for two different head coaches in two different defensive schemes during his two seasons with Indianapolis. By the end of the 2018 season — during which he made 12 starts — he'd earned enough trust to be assigned as the primary defender against Hopkins in two critical contests.
Ballard made the 28-year-old an offseason priority, but he and Desir's representatives agreed to let the market set the terms for contract negotiations. That meant allowing the cornerback to test his worth in a week crop of free-agent defensive backs.
The same process produced a one-year, $1.75 million contract prior to the 2018 season. So there was some speculation Desir could use his big season as a springboard to big money elsewhere.
Instead, he agreed to a deal with an annual average just above $7 million and will enter the offseason program as a projected starter for the first time this spring.
Meanwhile, with the market finally starting to slow down after two days of dizzying trades and contract agreements, Ballard began to eye his next move.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the Colts will host veteran running back Jay Ajayi for a free-agent visit next week.
The London-born 25-year-old has rushed for 2,516 yards and 13 touchdowns in four seasons with Miami and Philadelphia. He was part of the Eagles' march to the Super Bowl LII championship following the 2017 season, rushing for 408 yards and one touchdown in seven regular-season games with Colts head coach Frank Reich as his offensive coordinator.