RENTON, WA - Returning to the Pacific Northwest as a seasoned eight-year veteran, Pierre Desir has come a long way since the first time he donned a Seahawks uniform.
The former third-round pick out of tiny Lindenwood College first arrived in Seattle back in November 2016 with his career at a crossroads. Though he was only 26 years old, he had been released by both the Cleveland Browns and then-San Diego Chargers in a three-month span and now found himself on Seattle's practice squad with his NFL future up in the air.
After re-signing on a future/reserve deal in January 2017, Desir entered training camp as a legitimate candidate to make the Seahawks Week 1 roster. The long, athletic corner performed well on the practice field and during exhibition play, as he amassed six tackles, three passes defensed, and a sack in three preseason games. He had seemingly chalked up a spot behind Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane, and incoming rookie Shaquill Griffin on the depth chart.
But when final roster cuts were announced in early September, a spot on the 53 wasn't meant to be. Despite his stellar play, the Seahawks surprisingly cut Desir, subjecting him to waivers.
“It's part of the business, it's one of those things that you give everything that you got, and if you make the team, you make it. If not, you just got to keep moving on," Desir said prior to Saturday's third open training camp practice.
While discouraged by his release at the time, the Colts quickly claimed Desir off waivers and he managed to play himself into a starting role in their secondary.
In three seasons in Indianapolis, Desir started 29 out of 37 games played, producing 161 tackles, 26 passes defensed, and five interceptions. His finest season came in 2018 when he established a new career-high with 79 tackles and two forced fumbles while allowing a pedestrian 54.2 completion rate in coverage. Playing at a borderline Pro Bowl level, he earned a respectable 77.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
Though he wasn't as sharp in 2019 and allowed five touchdowns in coverage, Desir did pick off a career-best three passes and recorded 11 passes defensed in just 11 starts. Looking back, he believes he owes much of the success he found with the Colts to his brief time playing for coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks four years ago.
“It helped a lot. I think I grew a lot as a player," Desir said. "I learned from a lot of the veteran players and just being around a first class organization helped me a lot and I took that with me into Indy. I just took that same drive and mentality every day when I went out there. And it definitely helped me a lot going into the rest of my career.”
Four years older and wiser, Desir's decision to re-sign with the Seahawks in April offers plenty of parallels to when he first joined the organization.
With the Colts deciding to move forward without him, Desir inked a one-year contract with the Jets in free agency and won a starting job out of training camp. He recorded three interceptions in eight games with the Jets, including a pick six against the Broncos in Week 4.
But that game was a microcosm of one of the most challenging seasons of Desir's career. New York allowed 37 points to an undermanned Denver team quarterbacked by backup Brett Rypien, who connected with receiver Jerry Jeudy on a 40-yard touchdown with the veteran cornerback in coverage. It was one of five touchdowns he surrendered in eight games before the team released him in November.
Just as he did in 2016, Desir resorted to signing onto a practice squad, joining the Ravens two weeks after his release. He was elevated to active roster for three games due to revised roster rules enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but played sparingly, recording two tackles on special teams.
With his career once again at a fork in the road, when considering his options, taking another shot at earning a roster spot with the Seahawks presented the ideal opportunity with an organization he holds in the utmost regard.
“That played a lot into the decision making because, you know, I loved it here. I had a great time," Desir remarked. "I thought I learned a lot about just the game and just how to be a professional. And I just took that with me along the way. And then when I had the opportunity to come back, me and my agent talked, I talked to Pete [Carroll] and it was an easy decision.”
Just like 2017, Desir enters Seattle's cornerback competition knowing a roster spot is far from guaranteed. He will be vying for snaps against the likes of fellow free agent signee Ahkello Witherspoon, Tre Flowers, D.J. Reed, Damarious Randall, and incoming rookie Tre Brown in what should be the most compelling training camp battle on the roster.
But this time around, Desir has a significant advantage working in his favor that he didn't have four years ago: his experience.
Having already played in Seattle's scheme previously, Desir has a head up on most of the team's other corners. He understands what Carroll and the coaching staff expect and while he's in direct competition with them, just as Sherman and others did for him years ago, he has taken on the responsibility of passing on everything he has learned to Brown and other young players.
"I've been around for a while. I've been on different teams, different systems," Desir commented. "So I just take what I learned from those other teams and those other systems and try to teach guys and help guys in any way that I can.”
After playing in a number of different systems in his career, Desir has a specific set of teaching points that he has made sure to emphasize to give them the best chance at succeeding.
“Number one, stay on top. Run to the ball. As you see, even in the years when I wasn’t here, you’d see guys running to the ball, attacking the ball, and playing as one. I would just tell guys stay on top, play with intensity, play with confidence, and know that you’re going to be part of a brotherhood that’s going to stick with you and ride with you no matter what. And then have fun. This is about having fun as well. As long as they remember all that stuff, they’re going to be successful.”
Desir's ample experience should help him beyond excelling in his role as a mentor, however. As Carroll stated after Saturday's practice, the Seahawks "trust the heck out of him" due to his knowledge of the scheme and view him as a viable contender in the competition.
"I thought it would be a really good get if we could pull him in here because we know his background, we know his history, we've seen him play on film," Carroll said. "He could be a real steady element in the competition and he's come out looking very much a part of the competition."
Thus far, Desir hasn't done anything to deter his chances of competing for a starting job. During the opening team session of Saturday's practice, he put his advice for young players into practice by staying on top in coverage against tight end Colby Parkinson, who ran a fade route from the slot. Despite being six inches shorter, he maintained tight coverage downfield and reached up to swat away Geno Smith's pass in the end zone, denying the touchdown.
Understanding the business side of the NFL as well as anyone on Seattle's roster, Desir knows he will need to make such plays on a regular basis to stand out in a crowded cornerback room. He will also likely have to earn his keep on special teams. Similar to 2017, he has minimal margin for error and will need to turn in a strong camp and preseason to earn a spot.
But after experiencing plenty of highs and lows during his first seven seasons, comparing the player he is now to the one he was four years ago, he believes improved consistency will give him a better chance of sticking around and potentially snagging a starting role. No matter what happens, he's thankful for the chance to compete and remains hopeful this ride with the Seahawks lasts a bit longer than the first time.