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Dec 27

MAN LEFT BEHIND

 HOW THE NFL BLACKLISTED ONE OF THEIR OWN

KR

 

My lack of rank in the sports world directly correlates to my lack of connections—I don’t break stories and I’m not fed ‘inside leads’.  Anything I hypothesize comes via Google, Twitter and the few people I do know.

But as we enter 2014, the Internet can be as useful a resource as ever if used correctly. It doesn’t require a sixth sense to put two and two together—and putting two and two together was why I wrote this about Justin Blackmon on May 7 and this about Ryan Braun on June 6.

And now, on December 27—two days before the conclusion of the NFLs regular season—after doing some investigating and briefly communicating with Kerry Rhodes, I feel it’s necessary to bring up one of the most disturbing stories of 2013. While it may not be breaking news, it’s a story that hasn’t received nearly enough media attention.

The Facts

A 4th round pick of the Jets in 2005, Kerry Rhodes was Pro Football Focus’ 4th rated Safety in 2012—his age-30 season. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 1st rated Safety in 2009, their 62nd rated Safety in 2010, and 32nd rated Safety in an injury-riddled 2011.

While Pro Football Focus’ grades certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all way of evaluating an NFL player, their system is highly regarded in NFL circles, as they ‘grade’ every snap of every NFL game. At worst, these grades are fairly accurate. At the very least, these grades verify Rhodes as a formidable, if not above average, NFL Safety.

Off the field, Rhodes has never been a problem.  He’s never been arrested—sadly no menial feat in today’s NFL. And through speaking with a few people who knew Kerry from his time with the New York Jets, he was never one to cause trouble inside the locker room.

Despite his solid 2012, Rhodes became a salary cap causality of the Cardinals this past March. The Cardinals owed Rhodes a $6 million salary for the 2013 season, and saved themselves $6 million in both cash and salary cap flexibility due to Rhodes’ release.  Oh well.  Such is life in a multi-billion dollar industry where workers sign contracts that aren’t guaranteed.  But Rhodes hadn’t a reason to worry; coming off a solid year with plenty of juice left in the tank, he was surely to catch on elsewhere.

Until April.  MediaTakeout.com—the self-acclaimed “Most Visited Urban Website in the World” that’s little more than a “Very Poor Man’s Deadspin.com”—got a hold of various pictures of Kerry Rhodes and another male that greatly questioned Kerry’s sexuality. Though Rhodes has denied all rumors of being gay, the damage was already done. The NFL had blacklisted Rhodes; he hasn’t played a snap since.

The Sad Truth

I can’t put myself inside Kerry Rhodes’ head.  Maybe he doesn’t want to play football anymore—maybe his love for the game suddenly vanished. But purely based on his actions, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

In July, when asked about his 2013 contract situation while doing charity work in his native Alabama, Rhodes said: “It’s in the works. I can’t talk about it in depth but there’s a good four teams that I’m looking at. There are ongoing discussions. I’m trying to see which one will be the best fit for me. You will see me, though.”  More than a month later, Rhodes posted a link on his Facebook page which shows him listed as the top free agent option at the Safety position for the New England Patriots. Later, on September 17th, he worked out for the Giants. Clearly, Rhodes still has love for the game.

More likely, Kerry Rhodes sits, team-less, with many unanswered questions.  Above all, he must ask what he ever did to wake up one day and become unexpectedly, viciously attacked by a low-grade gossip website that felt it was necessary to question his sexuality. Because had those pictures not surfaced, Kerry Rhodes would still be playing football today.  He might be gearing up for a playoff run.

Truthfully, Kerry Rhodes’ sexual preference is irrelevant.  The NFL is supposed to be a meritocracy, and over a span of 7 seasons Kerry Rhodes has proved his worth. The fact that front offices are scared to bring in a player who might be homosexual but will definitely be an on-field asset speaks not only to these teams’ cowardice and lack of morals, but also to their stupidity.

In a league where most coaches and GMs can (and will) be fired at the drop of a hat, you’d think that GMs would advocate bringing in a talented veteran safety.

Why Not Kerry?

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett’s job may be on the line this Sunday.  And though Garrett surely has little say in Dallas’ personnel decisions, you’d have a hard time arguing that Kerry Rhodes wouldn’t benefit the Cowboys’ porous secondary in Sunday’s NFC East Championship vs. Philadelphia.

Eagles Safety Patrick Chung, an offseason acquisition who was inconsistent as a previous member of New England’s secondary, has often been poor in coverage this year. With Philly’s other young safeties (Kirk Coleman, Nate Allen and Earl Wolff) struggling, it makes you wonder why GM Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly haven’t at least given Kerry Rhodes a workout.

Then there’s the NFC North, where Green Bay and Chicago will also fight it out for the division crown on Sunday. Out of 68 Safeties that have played at least 50% of 2013 defensive snaps, the Bears’ starting Safeties (Chris Conte and Major Wright) are ranked 64th and 68th, respectively, by Pro Football Focus while the Packers’ starting Safeties are ranked 48th  (Morgan Burnett) and 55th (M.D. Jennings). It’s usually foolish to doubt the decision-making of Packers GM Ted Thompson, who’s widely regarded as one of the games smartest minds. But looking at the Packer’s Safeties, it’s hard to determine why Kerry Rhodes wasn’t given a shot in their sub-par secondary. As for Bears GM Phil Emery and his decision to not give Rhodes a look? In just his second-year, maybe he isn’t on the hot seat just yet. But in the NFL, that can change quickly. And who knows—signing Kerry Rhodes may have helped the Bears and their league-worst Safety tandem win one of the games that they lost, which would mean they’d already have the NFC North locked up.

And what about New Orleans? Also fighting for their playoff lives on Sunday, they just lost first-round rookie Safety Kenny Vaccaro to a broken ankle. Would Kerry Rhodes not provide the Saints’ secondary with insurance and veteran leadership for a playoff run?

There are surely more teams that Kerry Rhodes could positively impact. But of course there is another side to signing a player—the locker room component.    It’s management’s job to assemble a group of players that will mesh well together. Based on Kerry Rhodes’ track record, NFL teams have seemingly made a collective decision that bringing him in will cause a locker room disturbance.

Yet for a guy who has always been a class act, has been active in the community (The Kerry Rhodes Foundation helps “ambitious young men and women achieve their dreams by providing resources to nurture their academic and physical well-being”), and has denied any rumors of being homosexual, I can not fathom how Rhodes would negatively affect a lock room.

What Now?

The NFL is supposed to be a brotherhood.  In the case of Kerry Rhodes, the league left a brother behind based on hearsay and rumors. The 32 teams collectively took a story, ran with it, and stole Kerry Rhodes’ age-31 season from him.

On November 30, 2011 Chase Blackburn was working as a substitute teacher in his hometown of Ohio.  It was week 13 of the NFL season, and he hadn’t yet played a snap when the phone rang.  It was the Giants. He picked up the phone, flew to New York, and ended up being the Giants’ starting MLB—a key member of that Giants team who beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

Here’s to hoping Kerry Rhodes is next.

 

Andrew Cohen
@ajcohen03
ajcohen3@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

  • Ian Hardingham

    I sincerely hope that this article causes some real investigation. We need to find out whether this is actually due to Mr Rhodes’ sexuality – and if it is we need a proper expose on how this has happened.

  • mike jones

    That’s not a lot of evidence to hang your *the entire nfl is blacklisting Kerry Rhodes because they think he is gay* hat on. Actually, there appears to be zero evidence. The article even presents evidence that runs counter to it’s argument – it says says Kerry was working out for teams as late as September and was discussing contract terms. That seems like odd behavior for GMs that have decided to black ball someone.
    Did you even bother to call Kerry and ask if he had been offered a contract? Because I can’t even tell from this article that you bothered to interview the guy you are saying is being discriminated against, nevermind the people you are accusing of committing the transgressions. I love this place because it relies on figures and cold facts. And when analysis is given there is a strong evidentiary basis for it.

    This is extremely lazy journalism, and I’m disappointed to see it on one of my very favorite websites. It feels like it belongs on deadspin or PFT. Please stick to the facts and leave the mindless conjecture designed to pump hits to the lesser guys like you usually do.

    /Additionally, profootballfocus has apparently been grading defensive back play on straight up network film feed, which is just about impossible to use for grading those players,. We know this because their grades are published well before the 22-film is released most weeks. I wouldn’t place much stock in any grading they do outside line, linebacker, and runningback play.

    • Andrew Cohen

      Mike,

      I did reach out to Kerry, and sent him a first draft of this article. He responded and told me one of things I had initially written was untrue (something I was purely speculating on)–so I took it out of the piece. He had no problem with anything else written. While I didn’t interview the people I accused of committing the transgressions, I can’t imagine any NFL GM, if broached on the possibility of signing Kerry Rhodes (or any other player, for that matter) giving any answer except “We didn’t see ____ fitting into our plans.”

      As for ProFootballFocus’ grades, I realize they’re far from perfect, but I do feel they provide a solid benchmark.

      I say in the opening paragraph “anything I hypothesize comes via Google, Twitter and the few people I do know.” I did contact Kerry (as well as others who know him), and got his blessing before posting this. But yes, much of this is me using my own intuition and the resources I had available to me.

      • Shane Inlosangeles

        I concur with much of Mr. Cohen says & I did not infer from his article that anything he said was more than his opinion on the appearance of impropriety. As for PFF, I think it provides an invaluable baseline for journalists who do not have time (b/c they have other jobs) to view all the film tape on a player. Great job, Mr. Cohen. I blogged about Rhodes not being signed, but did not mention his sexuality b/c I was trying to make a point that it shouldn’t matter. I did call Sirius XM NFL radio and talked to Bob Papa and LaDainian Tomlinson & mentioned the gay issue. They agreed they could not understand why Rhodes wasn’t signed.

      • mike jones

        I say in the opening paragraph “anything I hypothesize comes via Google, Twitter and the few people I do know.”
        How can you justify accusing a class of people of extreme bigotry in 2014 with no evidence whatsoever?

        http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/10477666/kerry-rhodes-believe-was-blacklisted
        Updated: February 18, 2014, 5:59 PM ET

        Rhodes thinks money, more than rumors, might have hampered his
        signing with a team, since he wasn’t going to take a deal that he wasn’t
        comfortable with.

        “Every option for me is open, I haven’t retired,” said Rhodes, who was drafted by the New York Jets
        in 2005. “It’s about me staying ready to go, I would probably have to
        take a deal right now, but if an opportunity that’s good for them and
        also good for me I would entertain it and want to come back and play. I
        still love football and it’s still a part of me. That’s not closed. But
        I’m not going to go into a situation where it’s not beneficial to
        myself. Because with the things I’m doing now I feel pretty comfortable
        and confident. It’s just what works best. But definitely haven’t closed
        that door yet.”

        • Andrew Cohen

          Mr. Jones, you can choose to believe whatever you’d like. Bottom line is it isn’t in Kerry’s best interest to say anything other than what he said in that ESPN article.

    • Ox

      Other than your position of this article being a different tone than most articles on the site, I can’t see where you’re coming from on the critique of the article Mike.

    • Bent

      In terms of PFF, although their grades are published before the all-22 is available, they do re-grade the games once it is and adjust them accordingly. Having said that, safety is perhaps the position where the grades need context above all others. A guy like Rhodes, constantly playing deep and not making many mistakes is often going to grade out better than a guy who plays in the box and gets more direct coverage assignments, despite not having as much of a positive impact. Also, they acknowledge that you cannot always correctly attribute blown coverages without knowing everyone’s assignment, which although they have a better idea of than most people due to their familiarity with each team can never been known for certain. I think the author was suitably cautious in his explanation of the limitations though.

  • NW86

    Great article! I’m amazed, as a football fan, that I had never even heard about this before. I guess this is a case study on why professional athletes still feel like they are unable to come out during their careers. What a shame.

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