There’s no question Xavier Rhodes‘ play on the field was pretty awful the last couple of seasons. However, is it possible the Minnesota Vikings could actually regret letting their longtime lockdown corner go?
Rhodes’ rise and fall
Before we get into why the Vikings could actually regret letting him go, let’s just get reacquainted with who Rhodes was and what he became.
Rhodes was taken by the Vikings with the 25th overall choice of the 2013 NFL Draft. He came in and played well right out of the gate, finishing his rookie season with 48 total tackles and an impressive 10 pass breakups. He got even better when Mike Zimmer came to town in 2014, and by 2015, was one of the best corners in the NFL — teams rarely threw the ball his way.
In 2017, the Vikings signed Rhodes to a monster five year, $70 million contract extension, and many figured he’d be a Viking for life. They were wrong.
In 2018, things began to change for Rhodes. Teams were throwing the ball his way and were having success. He was also hit with the injury bug. Seeing Rhodes laying on the ground after a bad play or missed tackle became a very common sight. When asked if Rhodes was hurt, Zimmer routinely told the media that he was fine.
While Rhodes’ production did dip a little in 2018, many figured it was because he was in fact injured and not at 100% full strength.
After a full offseason to heal up, many expected to see the old Rhodes back on the field in 2019. That didn’t happen. Rhodes’ completion percentage allowed on targets jumped to 81.5% and teams were well aware of this. He was constantly picked on every week.
Rhodes wasn’t just a problem on the field. He was shown throwing temper tantrums on the sidelines and getting into it with his coaches and defensive teammates. It’s a hard thing for great players to handle when their skills begin to diminish, and Rhodes didn’t take it well at all. With the fact he was a problem on the field and a distraction off of it, it came as no surprise when the team released him in the 2020 offseason.
Why would the Vikings regret cutting Rhodes?
As bad as Rhodes has been the last two seasons, it’s hard to believe the team could regret letting him go. But it is possible. The Vikings could regret cutting Rhodes if their youth movement at the cornerback position fails. Mike Hughes is set to be their number one corner, followed closely by Jeff Gladney and Holton Hill.
Hughes can’t stay healthy and has been inconsistent when he is out there. Hill has issues staying out of trouble off the field and didn’t see a ton of reps a season ago because he was suspended half the season. Gladney is a rookie, and it could take him a while to adjust to the NFL game. If Hughes gets hurt again, Hill suspended, and Gladney experiences growing pains, the Vikings secondary could be in major trouble.
The team would have to rely on Kris Boyd and Cameron Dantzler to step up, and both of them are extremely raw. If they had Rhodes still on the roster, at least they’d have a player who has seen just about everything an NFL offense can throw at him.
Even if all the corners stay healthy, there is a lack of veteran leadership among the group. Sure, the safeties like Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris can help the youngsters line up correctly, but it would be beneficial to have an experienced corner who is well-versed in Zimmer’s defense right there next to them, making sure they are in the correct spots. Not only that, but a veteran like Rhodes can also yell over to his fellow corners, letting them know what to expect in certain looks.
Another reason why Rhodes could be missed by the Vikings is his overall size and ability to shut down opponents’ top weapons. Rhodes is 6’1″ and 218 pounds. He has a nice lanky frame with arms that seem to go down to almost his ankles.
Even in his horrible seasons like last year, he was able to shut down Julio Jones in Week 1, and then held Michael Thomas to seven receptions and just 70 yards in the playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. As bad as he was, he rose to the occasion and showed the skills that gave him the “Rhodes Closed” nickname during the glory years of his career.
The Vikings’ current group of cornerbacks lacks size. Gladney and Hughes are both 5’10”. Holton Hill is 6’2″, but he doesn’t have the history of shutting down top targets the way Rhodes did. There’s a very good chance that the Vikings could do much worse against elite pass catchers this season than they have in the past because Rhodes isn’t on the field.
There is one more, far-fetched reason the Vikings could regret cutting Rhodes. This seems almost mildly insane to even say, but what if he finds a resurgence with the Indianapolis Colts?
Rhodes is still only 30 years old and has plenty left in his body. What if the change in scenery and scheme does him good, and he suddenly reverts back to his 2016 form? If Rhodes suddenly finds himself and is able to shut down his opponents’ top targets and racks up 15 pass breakups and has 55 tackles or so, the Vikings could be kicking themselves for letting him walk.
The following things will have to happen for the Vikings to end up regretting letting Rhodes go: Their young cornerback group will have to struggle. They won’t be able to physically match up with elite receivers and will have problems getting lined up correctly on defense.
Rhodes will also need to have a major bounce-back season after looking washed up the last couple years. While the chances of all these things happening at once is unlikely, the Vikings second-guessing their decision to let their veteran corner leave is within the realm of possibility.