INDIANAPOLIS – He was hungry, affordable and loved the familiar face.
Well, the familiar face for Xavier Rhodes in cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon is no longer here.
The price tag to retain Rhodes will not be the 1-year, $3.75 million affordable prove-it deal the Colts gave him last offseason.
And the hunger? Rhodes, 30, was released by the Vikings last March and needed to show the rest of the NFL that he could still play corner at a high level in order to earn one more big pay day in his professional career. With that on the horizon, is that drive still burning?
All of those factors were major reasons in why the marriage between Rhodes and the Indianapolis Colts worked so well in 2020.
Will it continue?
That is one of the big questions facing the Colts in the 2020 offseason.
While it’s not at the top of the off-season checklist list, what happens with Rhodes is a big deal in deciding how the Colts cornerback group looks in 2021, and for the next few years.
Given what Rhodes gave the Colts in 2020—and the lack of proven outsider corners behind him—he could very well be the team’s most important free agent this offseason.
After being cut by the Vikings last season, Rhodes resurrected things in a more zone-centric defense.
2019 Rhodes (Vikings): 81.5 completion percentage allowed, 123.8 quarterback rating allowed
2020 Rhodes (Colts): 52.4 completion percentage allowed, 84.6 quarterback rating allowed
The improved play from Rhodes came with him making $10 million less than he did in Minnesota.
It also came under the tutelage of Gannon, who was his former position coach in Minnesota and is now the Eagles defensive coordinator with Nick Sirianni.
When Rhodes joined the Colts last March, he did not hesitate to stress Gannon as a major reason why he chose Indianapolis.
“I spoke with ‘JG’ the whole free agency process and he knows me as a player, he knows what I’m about,” Rhodes said last spring. “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.”
For the Colts to retain Rhodes, it’s going to take a much steeper (and longer) pay day than they gave him last offseason.
As Rhodes heads towards his 31st birthday this summer, do the Colts think his level of play will remain at the level we saw in ’20, without the likes of Gannon, and/or perhaps some more contentment creeping in? Also, would there be reservations about giving Rhodes a multi-year deal at his age? Is the franchise tag for Rhodes something that could be in play?
Behind Rhodes, the options aren’t ideal, with Kenny Moore at his best playing that inside slot position.
Rock Ya-Sin struggled in his second NFL season.
Veteran T.J. Carrie is another 30-year-old free agent.
Youngster Marvell Tell opted out for the 2020 season. He’s an intriguing name, but still just missed out on a key year of growth, after making the switch from college safety to NFL corner in his 2019 rookie campaign.
Rookie Isaiah Rodgers is someone the staff likes, but is his more natural fit as a slot corner?
Cornerback isn’t known to be the most important position in Matt Eberflus’ system, but no one can deny Rhodes gave this team No. 1 outside cornerback play that the Colts haven’t had since Vontae Davis in 2014.
Letting him walk in free agency would create a notable void, especially with wideouts like Stefon Diggs, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, DeAndre Hopkins, Robert Woods on next year’s schedule.
Are the Colts ready to pay Rhodes?
“Xavier had a heck of a year,” Ballard said at the end of the 2020 season. “Really bought into what we are doing. I give Jonathan Gannon a lot of credit for that. He had a relationship with Xavier from Minnesota. Xavier worked and bought into everything we are doing.
“I think we will wait and see how it works out here in free agency, but we like Xavier.”