Released by the Minnesota Vikings earlier this offseason after seven seasons — three of which ending with Pro Bowl selections — Xavier Rhodes signed a one-year free agent deal with the Indianapolis Colts in a move that he hopes will propel him back into the conversation as one of the elite cornerbacks in the league.
INDIANAPOLIS - They're called "prove-it" deals for a reason.
And Xavier Rhodes hopes to do a whole lot of proving this season for the Indianapolis Colts.
Released earlier this offseason by the Minnesota Vikings, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career, three of which ending in Pro Bowl selections and one ending in a First-Team All-Pro nod, Rhodes in March decided to sign a one-year deal with the Colts, a move that could pay major dividends for both sides.
For Rhodes, he gets a chance to show he can still play at an elite level; the Colts, meanwhile, get a talented player with a massive chip on his shoulder who should fit right into Matt Eberflus' defensive system.
"It's a new chapter," Rhodes said earlier this offseason. "I'm with the Colts now, and I'm willing to work with this organization and fight and try to win the team a championship and lead the DBs to let them play to the best of their ability."
Rhodes, 30, brings a solid blend of size, speed and physicality to the Indy secondary. At 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds - and sporting a 4.43-second 40-yard dash - Rhodes not only looks the part, but he also brings big-play potential.
In his seven NFL seasons, Rhodes has collected 372 total tackles (15 for a loss) with 10 interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 73 passes defensed and three forced fumbles. Since 2013, only Logan Ryan has put up those kind of numbers at the cornerback position, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
"Everyone knows I'm big. I'm a big, physical guy, and I like to get guys at the line of scrimmage," Rhodes said of his playing style. "And I'm not only physical, I'm pretty fast, so I'm looking forward to just getting in the guy's face and slowing the timing down, messing with the timing between the receiver and the quarterback and making the quarterback make tough throws and tough decisions."
Another major positive for Rhodes and the Colts - and perhaps his primary deciding factor when deciding which team to sign with in free agency - is his familiarity with the Indy coaching staff.
Alan Williams (safeties) and Jonathan Gannon (cornerbacks), the Colts' two secondary coaches, were both with the Vikings during Rhodes' time in Minnesota; Williams was Rhodes' defensive coordinator his rookie season in 2013, while Gannon was the Vikings' assistant defensive backs coach from 2014-17.
It was under Williams' and Gannon's tutelage that Rhodes was able to improve with each season since entering the league as a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. From 2013 to 2017, in fact, Rhodes never had a season with fewer than 48 tackles and 10 passes defensed, and in 2016 he had a career year with five interceptions, one of which he returned 100 yards for a touchdown. That led to Rhodes being selected First-Team All-Pro in 2017.
"It'll be a key factor, because those guys know the type of player I am and they know my strengths, and they've actually seen my work ethic and the things that really works for me," Rhodes said of Williams and Gannon. "So we're going to work around that, and also they know how much of a professional I am and how much knowledge of the game I have. So they basically spoke to me and they look forward to me just being able to play my ball, play my style, and also coaching the young guys."
Rhodes also has a fan in Eberflus, who first got introduced to the cornerback at the 2017 Pro Bowl; Eberflus was part of the Dallas Cowboys' staff that coached the NFC team that year, and Rhodes had just been selected to his first of three All-Star games with the Vikings.
"We had him there and I just fell in love with him in terms of his work patterns," Eberflus recalled of Rhodes earlier this offseason.
"I was just amazed for how the guy could move for how big he is," Eberflus continued. "I mean, the guy looks like a big safety and he is playing corner. We just really fell in love with him."
It'll be up to the Colts' defensive staff to work with Rhodes to help him get back to his All-Pro form. While he's been a productive player the last couple seasons, Rhodes is the first to admit his play hasn't been 100 percent up to his standards, for a multitude of reasons.
"The last two years, it's been a battle, especially with injuries," Rhodes said. "So being that, it's football; you're out there playing, you can't make no excuses for yourself. When you're on that field you've just gotta play to the best of your ability, and last year wasn't my best season. So I accepted that, and now that the Vikings moved on from that I'm playing for the Colts."
Depending on the formation being utilized, Rhodes could very well be considered a defensive starter entering training camp. The Colts return two of their three starting cornerbacks from a year ago in Rock Ya-Sin and Kenny Moore II, who slides inside to play nickel cornerback in that formation.
A primary starting group of Moore II, Ya-Sin and the new guy Rhodes at cornerback could prove to be a hectic one to deal with for opposing quarterbacks.
"He is a physical, really good tackler and he has played at a Pro Bowl level. We are excited to get him back to that point," Eberflus said of Rhodes. "He has a chip on his shoulder in lieu of the circumstances and we are excited about that. We will see where he goes from there."