Nearly spending the entire year out of football, Pierre Thomas found a home in Washington with a month left in the season, and has made the most of his time with the Redskins.
When the Redskins first signed Pierre Thomas near the beginning of December, the veteran running back called the process – training privately around his hometown in Chicago, waiting for a call, joining a new team, meeting new teammates, learning a different playbook – a "roller coaster."
But, so far, four weeks in Washington has proven to be a smooth ride.
The nine-year pro has adapted seamlessly into a backfield that is now considered crowded, even while it features four diverse runners, pass-catchers and blockers that have negotiated playing time on a week to week basis.
Maybe all of that depth could have been a problem had Thomas, 31, been several years younger, less mature and in pursuit of making more money and getting more touches. But with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes a certain kind of selflessness that seems to work best on a young team rebranding itself in the middle of a playoff run.
The Redskins are such a team, and Thomas has such qualities, which has made him, joining a locker room already full of leaders, another logical addition.
"He's a pro's pro," offensive coordinator Sean McVay said.
"He has that experience and he has the Super Bowl experience, so he's just trying to help us any way possible," running back Chris Thompson said. "There is no selfishness from him, and as far as teaching goes, he teaches me patience."
Thompson was referring to his route-running, specifically on a play against the Eagles that helped him score a touchdown, but he could just as easily have been describing Thomas' 2015, a year that tested, and ultimately rewarded, his tolerance and persistence, waiting for an olive branch from a willing team and learning his role once it was extended.
"I'm here to do whatever I can," Thomas said. "I'm going to help out this team as best as I can because I want us to go to the Super Bowl and I want these guys to feel what I felt in 2009 when I was with the New Orleans Saints."
Thomas brings up his championship pedigree a good amount with the media. It's not about bragging – he just wants experience winning the whole thing again, and knows what kind of locker room chemistry it took to get there. In Redskins running backs coach Randy Jordan's terms, "he can pull that from his memory bank and he wants to relive that again. I went there, played there, but I can't tell you how to win it. He actually won the sucker."
The Washington Redskins on Friday announced the signing of nine-year veteran running back Pierre Thomas. Check out highlights from his career.
Thomas was a vital member of the Saints' victory over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, collecting 30 rushing yards and 55 receiving yards with a touchdown.
In his nine-year career with the Saints, he ran for 3,809 yards and became one of the best pass catchers in the NFL, grabbing 336 passes for 2,692 receiving yards. Last season, he caught 90 percent of his targets and gained 9.7 yards after the catch per reception, forcing 20 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, traits he still exemplifies today.
After signing a two-year extension with the Saints in 2014, Thomas was cut last March. Then the waiting began, and it continued all spring and summer, past training camp, past final cuts and well into the regular season. Thomas worked out with a personal trainer, hoping to get a call, which he finally received from the 49ers in November.
He took four handoffs and gained 12 yards against the Falcons and was released the following the week. Just like that. Those kinds of roster moves aren't often personal, but they can certainly feel like it. Thomas could have moped, but he kept training until the Redskins, in need of a running back to replace an injured Chris Thompson, called him in for a tryout and signed him shortly after.
"It's very difficult because you're on your own, you don't have anybody really pushing you," Thomas said. "I knew what it took to get to this level. I worked my butt of before…It's like riding a bike, you never forget, you've just got to go out there and do it. And I had friends and family members that were always in my ear pushing me. I didn't need another coach. I knew what I needed to do. I knew what it took to get back into this league and keep myself in condition and in shape. And when I got that call, I was just ready."
That's been apparent from the first week. Since joining the team, he's grasped the playbook at a rapid pace and has become another veteran voice for the running backs room, offering insight on varieties of plays and opponents.
"For a guy to come in here and learn this offense in less than a week is amazing," Jordan said. "We grinded and he had to transfer the old terminology he had when he was with the Saints to how we call it now. A lot of times people really struggle with that. That first week we were trying to get everything going, but the time we hit that second week… he was done. Now it's just a matter of him going out and performing."
It took a few games to get his bearings, but Thomas has established the fact that he's not done as a running back in the NFL. He's fulfilled the role of being a third-down back, but that delineation has been slightly skewed depending on what types of packages and situations the Redskins face.
In four games, Thomas has rushed 11 times for 52 yards and caught nine passes for 84 yards, not to mention protecting Cousins from blitzers attacking the pocket. His best game came in the division-clinching win against the Eagles, in which he ran for 22 yards and caught seven passes for 67 yards, leading the attrition late in the second half.
"I don't know why he was on the streets," head coach Jay Gruden said. "I know he had a couple workouts at a couple different places and they chose not to sign him for whatever reason. I just based it off of we needed a guy in a pinch. Chris [Thompson] was out. We needed a third-down-type back — a guy who can handle protection, a guy who could come in and learn the system in a hurry, could run routes and all that stuff — and he was the perfect guy. I've seen him do it in New Orleans many, many times. I knew he could handle it from a mental standpoint so he was the perfect guy to come in here and help us in a pinch."
Using his experience
What's made Thomas an ideal latch-on for the playoffs is that he's willing to do anything asked of him. There's no ego, which is to say that taking fewer snaps is not a sacrifice if it means the team keeps winning and improving.
"I think what happens with professionals is that when they first start off they're young and everything is going 100 mph," Jordan said. "You're trying to get yours, so to speak. I've been there and done that, so I can relate to Pierre, though I didn't have the productivity that Pierre had.
"But you're thinking moreso of yourself those first 1-to-4 years, and then once you get a little bit long in the tooth and you get to year 5, 6, 7 and in the middle of your career, then it doesn't become about you anymore. It becomes about the team…He just wants to be a pro's pro, and he's been great for our room."
How exactly? It starts with asking questions, opening up dialogue with coaches in meeting rooms and injecting his own experiences with suggestions and tweaks.
Thomas has 110 games under his belt and a wealth of snaps, scars and scores in between. Anytime he can be of service – handing out pointers (recall the tidbits Thompson received helping his routes), remembering an opponent's tendencies – turns into invaluable intel.
"You watch the way he handles himself in the meeting room, he asks great questions," McVay said. "He's able to draw on a lot of the experiences that he's had in New Orleans and even offer some good feedback to us as coaches."
"We're always having dialogue, like, 'How can we be better? What do you look for in this play? Where are your eyes on the play?'" Jordan said. "So I'm always trying to find ways to make them better, and he's made the room better just by being a pro."
Thomas just wants to get back to the Super Bowl, to chase the memories he acquired in 2009 and to make new ones with his new team, the team that gave him a second chance (technically a third chance), like they've done with so many other veterans that have carved out key roles for the postseason push.
"One day, who would have thought, I was sitting on my couch at the house and now I'm an NFC East Division champion," Thomas said. "God is good. He put me on this team for a reason: to help out, and that's what I'm doing. These guys, they were already on the road, they were already on the up-rise. I'm just another piece to help push it up more."