NFL free agent Kerry Rhodes, who at least one publication rated as one of the league's best players at his position in 2012, still wants to play and is waiting for a team to give him a call. So why isn't he in a uniform yet? Deadspin's Drew Magary made a perceptive case last week that NFL teams could be snubbing Rhodes because his alleged ex-boyfriend and former assistant attempted to out him on MediaTakeOut earlier this year. (Rhodes told TMZ that he wasn't gay but offered his support to any professional athlete who wished to come out.)
This could be the week Rhodes finally signs with a team — Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reports that Rhodes will have a workout with the New York Giants on Tuesday. Then again, Rhodes was reportedly in "ongoing discussions" with four teams as recently as two months ago and nothing came of it. And there are many, many teams besides the Giants who could use a player of his caliber.
Rhodes hasn't always been a star, but he's coming off a year in which he tallied four interceptions for the Arizona Cardinals, the NFL's fifth-ranked pass defense. Pro Football Focus, a site that evaluates each player's performance on each play of the NFL season, graded Rhodes the fourth-best safety in the NFL in 2012 and called him one of the two best free-agent safeties on the market on March 29. The other was Quintin Mikell, who was signed by the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 2 and will start this week.
What's taken so long for NFL teams to find Rhodes' phone number? Magary quoted Florio:
Florio also reported four NFL teams tried out defensive backs last week: the Bucs, Colts, Dolphins, and Seahawks. Rhodes wasn't one of them.
So the 31-year-old Rhodes remains on the sidelines, for reasons that don't seem to make much sense. In a league where quarterbacks are ascendant, why wouldn't a team with problems defending the pass take a flier on a safety who's been consistently serviceable and sometimes very good since entering the league in 2005?
Here are the starting free safeties for the teams currently among the worst NFL pass defenses as measured by opponent quarterback rating.
Washington: Bacarri Rambo, a rookie sixth-round draft pick from Georgia who has 18 tackles. The Redskins are going the young and cheap route. And it's gotten them burned — opposing quarterbacks have the best QB rating in the league against them this year, though, to be fair, they had to play against Chip Kelly/Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers.
Baltimore: Michael Huff, a seven-year veteran who was signed to a three-year contract in March. Huff was brought in to replace perennial All-Pro Ed Reed. So far, he's struggled. Through two games, PFF rates Huff 67th among safeties in the league.
Green Bay: Morgan Burnett, who signed a four-year, $24.5 million extension that will keep him with the Packers through the 2017 season. Pro Football Focus ranked him seventh among all safeties over that stretch. The Packers are set long term at Rhodes' position, though Burnett missed the first two games of the season with a hamstring injury. Second-year strong safety Jerron McMillian has been starting while he's out — and has been the second-worst safety in the game, according to PFF, rating ahead of only Bacarri Rambo.
San Diego: Erik Weddle. Weddle is one of the NFL's best safeties and was voted the Chargers' MVP in 2012.
St. Louis: T.J. McDonald, a rookie from USC who's got eight tackles and one pass defensed in his first two starts. McDonald's done well — the 14th-best safety in the league so far per PFF.
Oakland: Charles Woodson was released from Green Bay in February after seven seasons and signed with the Raiders, where he played for the first eight years of his career. Woodson isn't a natural safety; the Packers moved him there in 2012 after he struggled in coverage at cornerback. He didn't make that smooth of a transition either, as PFF graded him out as the 37th best overall safety in 2012 before a broken collarbone cost him nine games last year. At this point they're committed to Woodson, and sure, he's a franchise icon, but he was not the best choice on the market. Of course, who would expect much else from the Raiders?
Arizona: The Cardinals let go of Rhodes and elevated Rashad Johnson, a fourth-year veteran who came into the season with 14 career starts. Arizona has had its troubles in coverage so far this year; it'd be tough to lay the blame solely on Johnson, but he does deserve sole blame for this.
Philadelphia: The Eagles signed former Patriots safety Patrick Chung in the offseason. Chung had the distinct advantage of playing for Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly in college at Oregon, but has, per PFF, been the third-worst safety in the NFL so far.
Then there are the Giants, who lost safety Stevie Brown during the preseason. They're starting Antrel Rolle and Ryan Mundy, who've graded out OK per PFF, but nonetheless were victims of the general torching that Peyton Manning laid on Tom Coughlin's squad in the Meadowlands Sunday. If Rhodes remains unemployed another week, in a pass-crazy league where depth in the secondary is paramount, fans of these teams will be justified to wonder whether homophobia is playing a role in the NFL's personnel departments.