INDIANAPOLIS – Xavier Rhodes had progressed to the level players dream of when entering the NFL.
First-round pick? Check.
Sign a massive second contract, thus making him one of the highest paid players at his position? Check.
Being named an All-Pro the season after signing that new 5-year deal? Check.
Rhodes was on the ideal trajectory following that 2017 season, in which he was named an All-Pro.
Since then though, Rhodes has gone from being one of the best corners in the NFL to being cut by the team that had previously handed him a 5-year, $70 million deal.
With two seasons left on that contract signed back in ‘17, the Vikings decided to release their former first-round pick in early March.
“It was an eye-opener to the point where you don’t have a job for a couple of days, a couple of weeks so it’s like, ‘Dang, I never thought I would be to this point,’” Rhodes says looking back on the unknown he faced earlier this month. “But again, you have to realize where you are at. This is the NFL, it’s a business. So right now, I just accepted the fact and I am ready to move on and play for Indy.”
“When you’re with a team and achieved so much with one team, you just think that’s going to be forever. But then it’s a reality check and you realize it’s time to get on it. This is a business at the end of the day. No one is safe, no matter who you are or what player you are. As you can see, there are many other players we can use as examples. It’s just a reality check to the point where no one is irreplaceable in this league. You always have to be on your best behavior. You always have to prove yourself each and every week, each and every year. Every year is a new year. So no matter what you did last year, or the year before, it’s all about what you’re doing this year.”
For Rhodes that now comes in Indianapolis, after the Colts signed him to a 1-year deal, reportedly in the $5 million range.
Instead of being paid like a top-5 corner in the NFL, Rhodes isn’t making anywhere close to premier cornerback money.
That comes after consecutive seasons in which Rhodes admittedly struggled, with him pointing to some nagging injuries as a factor, along with the inability to consistently make plays at the moment of truth.
“If you watch the film it wasn’t that I was getting beat or anything,” the 6-1, 218-pound corner says. “I just couldn’t get the ball out of the receiver’s hands. I was on every receiver I was covering – just the point of getting the ball out of their hands. That’s what I have been working on this year, locating the ball a lot faster, reacting to the ball a lot faster than I was last year.”
Rhodes says he played a good amount of zone with the Vikings last season, and knows he will be asked to do that, along with some man coverage technique, in Indianapolis.
The Colts are also fans of the physicality that the corner, who is built like a safety, offers.
“That’s my game and they watch film,” Rhodes says of his tackling ability. “If you watch my game that’s me as a player. I’m a physical guy. I’m an aggressive guy. I’m not afraid to come in and make the tackle. So by them reaching out and knowing me, they know what they were signing. So if that’s what they wanted, that’s what they’re going to get.”
Colts cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon is very familiar with Rhodes. From 2014-17, ‘JG’ (as Rhodes calls him) was an assistant defensive backs coach for the Vikings.
Rhodes is adamant that familiarity was the biggest factor in the 29-year-old corner wanting to come to the Colts.
“I spoke with ‘JG’ the whole free agency process and he knows me as a player, he knows what I’m about,” the Florida State product says. “I wanted a fresh start and that was the guy I chose to be with because he understood me as a player when he was at Minnesota with me.
“I am not afraid of going into this team and trying new things, but also I know the coaches know my strength. We are going to work on both playing their game and also playing mine – mixing both into it. So I can be comfortable being myself and playing my game but also those guys can be comfortable calling the plays they want to call.”
Is a resurgence going to occur for Rhodes?