Is the Former Vikings Pro Bowl CB Elite?
By: Ivan Evans (Twitter: @ianacevans)
The 2021 free agency class is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. From quarterbacks such as Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton, to defensive studs such as Lavonte David, Leonard Williams and Bud Dupree, there are many star free agents that could be on a new team by the start of next season. However, there are many under-the-radar free agents, specifically cornerbacks, who could satisfy several teams’ needs in 2021.
Some cornerbacks hitting free agency include Desmond King II, William Jackson III, and Richard Sherman who all play on a high level perennially. However, there is one corner to keep a keen eye on, Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes was released by the Minnesota Vikings after the 2019 season and was signed by the Indianapolis Colts for the 2019-2020 regular season.
Xavier Rhodes showed that he can still play the cornerback position extremely well as he played a major role on one of the best defenses in the league. He finished the 2020 season with 40 solo tackles and only allowed 38 receptions on 75 targets. He also had two interceptions on the year, one of them being a pick-six. He had a solid season with Indianapolis and quite frankly, Rhodes might be the most important free agent for the Colts.
Rhodes will turn 31 this summer which could play a factor in the contract he receives. But if he continues to play at the level we saw him play at with the Colts this past season, he could be looking at a hefty contract in his future. With this being said, there are many teams with just enough cap space who could use his talents to enhance their pass defense. Here are five teams that could serve as landing spots for Xavier Rhodes.
1. San Francisco 49ers
This all depends on if unrestricted free agent Richard Sherman decides to return back to San Francisco. And based on the rumors and speculation, it seems as if Sherman is looking for a new change of scenery. If this holds true, Rhodes would be the perfect replacement for the 49ers.
San Francisco’s defense only allowed 207.9 passing yards per game, which ranked 4th among defenses in the league. They only let up 314.4 points per game as well which ranked 5th in the entire NFL. However, they were 17th in points per game allowed as they let up 24.4 points per game. The 49ers have an outstanding defense, and in order to stay that consistent, they need the right replacement for Richard Sherman.
Pairing a talent like Xavier Rhodes with Jason Verrett would boost their pass defense significantly. For a team like San Francisco that has trouble keeping the offense out of the endzone, Rhodes could help in this department. He is adept at the corner position as he only allowed 51.3% of his passes thrown his way. Rhodes is skilled in both man and zone coverages and could be a reliable asset that the 49ers could use.
2. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona allowed 226.4 yards per game which were good enough to be in the top ten among defenses in the 2020 regular season. They also only 314.4 per game which was 5th in the entire NFL as well. That is thanks to Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick who were major contributors to the Cardinals’ Base 3-4 defense. So why is Arizona a landing spot for Rhodes? Both Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick are unrestricted free agents this year.
On top of that, Larry Fitzgerald, Haason Reddick, and Kenyan Drake are also unrestricted free agents as well. This means it will be rather difficult to retain both Peterson, Kirkpatrick, and these other free agents as the Cardinals have roughly $24.8 million in cap space to reallocate this offseason. If one of those corners does decide that they want a change of scenery, Rhodes could land in Arizona as a viable replacement.
The Cardinals could sign Rhodes to a minimal one-year deal to test if he can still play on a high level as a cornerback in his early 30s. It is safe to say that we should anticipate the Cardinals deciding to resign Patrick Peterson and let Dre Kirkpatrick walk. If this happens, adding Rhodes to a defense that is only getting better would be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Is it somewhat of a stretch that this happens? Yes. But it isn’t impossible so don’t be quick to rule it out.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles as a whole struggled defensively as they allowed 125.8 rushing yards per game (ranks 23rd among defenses) and 237.4 passing yards per game (ranked 15th among defenses). It is safe to say that the Eagles could target both defensive linemen and defensive backs in this free agency class. With Nickell Robey-Coleman being a free agent who could walk, the Eagles have an abundance of options to pursue.
Rhodes should be a free agent that the Eagles go after. Pairing him with a secondary that consists of Darius Slay and Jalen Mills would enhance their pass defense significantly. In their 4-3 defense, Rhodes could provide assistance in defending the deep ball and zone coverage that the Eagles struggled with this past year.
The only problem is that Philadelphia has roughly $12 million in cap space which will be difficult to navigate around this offseason. They could still pursue Rhodes and sign him to a one-year veteran minimum contract, but his eyes are set on a larger contract the Eagles could be out of luck. Philadelphia is a team that needs talent like Xavier Rhodes and is a sleeper landing spot for the 30-year-old.
4. Green Bay Packers
The NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed and exposed some flaws that the NFC North champions need to address. Besides Matt LaFleur’s controversial decision to kick the field goal when they were down only eight points, it was safe to say that cornerback Kevin King had an awful game. King allowed the first touchdown of the game to Mike Evans, allowed the Hail Mary touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Scotty Miller to end the first half, and drew the last pass interference penalty that sealed Green Bay’s fate.
The good news is King is a free agent in 2021 and could most likely test free agency if Green Bay won’t resign him. The Packers also have roughly $22 million in cap space which they could use to both help Aaron Rodgers in the offense by giving him another weapon to pass to as well bolster their defense as well. With that money, there should be no problem going after Rhodes.
Green Bay only allowed 221.2 passing yards per game which ranked seventh among the league’s defenses. And that number could decrease by adding a talent like Rhodes. Having Rhodes on one side Jaire Alexander on the other, and with a young and consistent talent like Darnell Savage as the primary safety that defense would be risky to throw against. The Packers also play Base 3-4 defense that the Colts play as well-meaning that Rhodes would fit in perfectly. If Green Bay wants to get serious about making defensive adjustments, they should aggressively pursue Rhodes.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
This one is rather interesting. For a team that has a tremendous defense, ranked third in yards per game allowed, why would Rhodes land here? Simply put, cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton are both free agents. And a cornerback pairing with Joe Haden and Xavier Rhodes along with Steven Nelson as a backup would make this pass defense nearly impossible to throw against.
The Steelers have a little over $21.5 million cap space to play with this offseason and could make a variety of moves and signings in this free-agent class. Their main focus should be on the run game as they averaged a league-worst 82.5 rushing yards per game. The other objective should be resigning Bud Dupree who is set to be a free agent as well. However, they could get greedy and decide to subtly go after Xavier Rhodes.
Rhodes fits the mold and aggressive that the Steelers are known for. And like the Colts and Packers, they also play an effective Base 3-4 defense which caters to Rhodes strengths as well. The Steelers don’t necessarily have to pursue him as improving their run game is their main priority. But if Hilton and Sutton are both allowed to walk and test free agency Xavier Rhodes could be a name that could potentially be mentioned with this team.