Life comes at you fast sometimes, as Xavier Rhodes found out in 2020. The veteran cornerback was riding a wave of NFL clout not so long ago, posting career-best numbers in 2016 that included five interceptions -- one being a 100-yard pick-six -- along with 11 pass break ups, 52 combined tackles and a forced fumble. That made the decision made by the Minnesota Vikings to award him a five-year, $70.1 million extension with $32.80 million in guaranteed money a no-brainer after seeing the former first-round pick light the league on fire in his fifth year. All told, Rhodes is a former First-Team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl corner, but he's fallen on hard times as of late.
Three years into the aforementioned contract, Rhodes was sent packing by the Vikings, having seen his production decrease steadily over the last three seasons -- bottoming out with zero interceptions and a career-low six pass break ups in 2019. He quickly landed with the Indianapolis Colts, but only on a one-year, prove-it deal, and being jettisoned by the Vikings was a harsh reminder the NFL is still very much a business.
"You don't go in thinking you're going to be cut," Rhodes said, via the Indianapolis Star. "If you're at a team, and you've achieved so much at one team, you think it's going to be forever. It's a reality check."
"I didn't ever think I would get to this point," Rhodes said.
The 29-year-old confesses injuries have played a part in his decline, namely to his foot, groin and hamstring in 2018 followed by ailments to his knee and hip last season, but in the same breath won't throw himself a pity party over it -- in a league where nearly everyone plays hurt at some point. He is hoping being healthy in 2020 will change his floundering narrative, though.
"When you go out there and play, you can't make any excuses for yourself," Rhodes said. "If you're on that field, you've got to play to the best of your ability. Last year wasn't my best year."
In the end, he believes he'll see a resurgent year with the Colts.
"If you watch the film, it wasn't that I was getting beat or anything," he said. "I just couldn't get the ball out of the receiver's hands. I was on every receiver, I was covering, it was just the point of getting the ball at the end.
"That's what I've been working on this year, is locating the ball a lot faster and reacting to the ball a lot faster."
He reunites with defensive backs coach Jonathan Gannon in Indy -- the two having spent time together with the Vikings. It's that familiarity that also made joining the Colts an easy decision for him.
"He knows me as a player, he knows what I'm about," Rhodes said. "I wanted a fresh start, and that's the guy I chose to be with, because he understood me as a player when I was at Minnesota."
Rhodes joins a Colts team that could stand to inject a veteran presence in 2020, and he'll have the opportunity to be an immediate starter and attempt to rebuild his brand under Gannon and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. His rude awakening in Minnesota combines with only a one-year deal with the Colts to provide all the motivation he needs to get back to impacting games in a major way. If he can, the signing will be a steal for the Colts.
If he cannot, they don't lose much in the process of kicking his tires.
One thing's for certain, however, and that's the fact Rhodes' wake-up call has him in unfamiliar territory, but he's not listening to the doubters. All he wants is another shot to prove he can return to form in the NFL, but it won't be easy, and the fact he'll turn 30 this summer adds an increased level of difficulty to it all.
He sounds up to the challenge, though.
"You can't really pay any attention to [doubters]," Rhodes said. "I don't feel like I need to prove myself to anyone but myself."