PITTSBURGH (AP) — Desmond King isn’t sure why the Houston Texans cut him last week.
The veteran cornerback also doesn’t particularly care.
It took all of 48 hours for King to find a new gig, one at the other end of the NFL spectrum. King practically sprinted to Pittsburgh, eager to join a defense littered with stars and an organization that hasn’t been through a full-on rebuild like the Texans are undergoing in decades.
The Steelers signed King on Thursday to give them another experienced voice in a secondary that includes perennial All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson. By Monday afternoon King was out on the practice field trying to absorb as much of the playbook as he can before Sunday’s opener against San Francisco.
Asked if it’s reasonable to think he can learn enough to get on the field this weekend, King just laughed.
“Absolutely,” he said. “As long as I know what everybody’s doing, I’ll play wherever coach (Mike Tomlin) will play me.”
King’s arrival adds another versatile player to a group where flexibility is key. The 28-year-old can play on the outside as well as line up on the inside at nickelback, where his physicality and ball skills — he has nine career interceptions, including five combined over the past two seasons in Houston — could make him a natural fit in a secondary where movement could be fluid.
“I feel like I’m a football player,” he said. “You put me on the field, I’m going to make it happen.”
That includes as a punt returner, something the Steelers saw firsthand in 2018 when played for the Los Angeles Chargers. With Pittsburgh up eight early in the fourth quarter, King backpedaled while fielding a punt and then ran untouched 73 yards to the end zone, his white No. 20 jersey a blur as it made its way through a sea of defenders in black-and-gold in a game the Chargers eventually won on the final snap.
It’s a memory that remains a career highlight for King, though he believes he’s far from done. If anything, coming to Pittsburgh is a full-circle moment of sorts.
He connected with Tomlin during the draft process in 2017, though the Chargers eventually scooped him up in the fifth round.
King worked his way into a somewhat unlikely success story. He was selected as an All-Pro after his second season, joining a group that included Peterson. The two now find themselves part of the NFL’s most expensive defense.
The Steelers have doled out more than $100 million in contracts to a group that includes difference-makers at every level, from Cam Heyward along the line to edge rushers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith to Fitzpatrick at the back end.
King won’t be asked to help mold a young group, the way it was in Houston. He’ll simply be asked to put his hand in the pile for a secondary that Pittsburgh hopes will be one of the better ones in the league. He called coming to the Steelers a natural fit.
“It’s the way I play,” King said. “Physical, fast, smart, go get the ball. And I want to win.”
There wasn’t much of that going on in Houston, which won a combined seven games in 2021 and 2022 amid a sea of turnovers, both on the roster and among the coaching staff.
Still, it caught King a little off guard when he was let go. He told the Texans he was excited about what they were building. That didn’t stop them from going in another direction.
King was quick to point out that “God makes no mistakes.” He would have been happy to help Houston turn it around. He’s overjoyed instead to get a chance with a team hoping to chase down the powers that be in the AFC.
“I know here there is a great tradition, great organization as well, a great leader as a head coach,” he said. “So me coming into this position, like I said, it’s a good opportunity for me.”
NOTES: The Steelers selected Watt, Heyward, QB Kenny Pickett and special teams ace Miles Killebrew as captains on Monday. This is Heyward’s ninth season as a captain and the first for Pickett, who enters his second year firmly in control of the Pittsburgh offense after spending the first month of 2022 as the backup behind Mitch Trubisky.