Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes (here with Texans receiver Joel Dressen in the teams' preseason opener) has embraced a fresh start in Arizona.
FLAGSTAFF – It started in an elevator in Indianapolis, just when it was coming into focus Antrel Rolle would force his way into free agency, and Cardinals defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson happened to end up next to Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
"Hey Donnie," Ryan said. "I have a question for you. If Kerry became available, would you like to have him?"
Kerry was Kerry Rhodes, the veteran Jets' free safety whom Henderson had once coached and who had fallen out of favor in New York once Ryan arrived. Henderson still wasn't sure if Ryan was just kidding though – Rhodes was a solid commodity.
"Rex, you'd give him to me?" Henderson asked. "If you want him," Ryan responded.
It took a couple of weeks before anything happened – the Cards were still trying to re-sign Rolle – but eventually, Rhodes was traded to the Cardinals for third- and fourth-round draft picks. One team wanted Rhodes. And one team clearly no longer did.
That's all Rhodes really needed. His time in New York had elapsed. That's natural for many veterans when a new coach arrives, which Ryan had in 2009. Rhodes didn't mesh with Ryan's philosophies, and it made for a bumpy season for a safety who had been considered Pro Bowl quality up until that point.
But it was more than that. Rhodes' outside interests suddenly became part of the equation when his plight was discussed and written about. He did live in Los Angeles in the offseason (often training with Matt Leinart, coincidentally) and acting was a future possibility, but he ended up with the nickname "Hollywood" and it wasn't always meant in a positive light.
As much as Rhodes would have liked to remain in New York, it made so much sense to move on.
"I needed a change, a fresh start," Rhodes said. "Perception was running rampant, like wildfire out there. This is a chance for me to come out here and there might only be a few people out here that heard about that, about Hollywood and all that stuff. I get a chance to prove myself and start a different image here."
Henderson, who coached Rhodes as a rookie with the Jets in 2005, chuckled at the "facts or fiction" way the New York media often handles things. Getting clear of that was probably important at this stage of Rhodes' career.
"When you are in New York and you are the top dog and you've been that way for five or six years and then there is change and all of sudden you have to sit on the porch and learn," Henderson said, "there can be some controversy."
When Rhodes arrived in Arizona, he met up with Leinart, with whom he was already friends (and who ironically has fought the same "Hollywood" label). Then the Cards eventually signed kicker Jay Feely and guard Alan Faneca from the Jets, and the transition was made that much easier.
Feely and Rhodes spent time hanging out together in the offseason, and Feely is convinced Rhodes will be an impressive playmaker for the Cardinals.
"He's got a presence back there and I think the change will be great for him," Feely said. "He has come in with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to prove himself, and sometimes you need that, something to kick-start your career again."
It was tough to completely shed the reputation – this offseason, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett needled Rhodes through Twitter about working hard enough after Rhodes tweeted about his vacation – but coach Ken Whisenhunt has been impressed with Rhodes since he arrived. His teammates also believe in the import.
"A lot of things were said about him, 'He can't do this,' or 'He's too Hollywood,' " fellow starting safety Adrian Wilson said. "One thing I do know – he's a heck of a football player."
The Cardinals believe Rhodes is a little more versatile than Rolle was, giving them the opportunity to mix and match with Wilson at times. He's also considered more of a true free safety than Rolle – who was a converted cornerback – that should prove better in deep coverage.
That's all Rhodes is looking for, really. A chance to re-establish an identity about football, which he felt never should have been lost in the first place.
"It's only human to be a little hurt," Rhodes said. "You can show bravado all you want and say you weren't hurt at all but at the end of the day it does. We are human beings, so to hear things about you and negative stuff coming out, it wasn't a good thing.
"For any player, anything in life, you want to be wanted. You want to think you have value that someone will seek. I knew this team wanted me."
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