Kerry Rhodes immediately realized things were different, became fully aware he was about to find himself in unfamiliar territory once he touched down in the Grand Canyon State this morning.
“I was actually on the plane coming in and I was looking out the window and I said, ‘I am not in New York anymore,’ " Rhodes told the assembled media at the Cardinals' training complex this afternoon. "I saw the desert and I have never seen that before.”
But he's about to get used to it. After five seasons with the Jets, Rhodes is now an Arizona Cardinal. Even though Rhodes knew there was a possibility he may be shipped out of town after a rocky first season under Rex Ryan, he still was a bit taken aback when the Jets sent him to the desert Saturday night for a fourth-round pick in next month's draft and a 2011 seventh-rounder.
“In this league you know there is always a chance for a change," Rhodes said. "I am not sitting here saying that I thought it was going to happen, but I knew the opportunity was there and I knew teams were interested and I knew that down the stretch with the Jets we had a little … it was a little rocky.
"So I knew that the opportunity was probably going to be there. When I heard it I was shocked though.”
“I thought there was a chance," Rhodes added. "Right after the season, they told me that they wanted me back and I expressed that I wanted to be back as well. So I thought there was a chance I would be back when you hear that. But you know in this league it is a business, so I guess they felt that they needed more [draft] picks and they could part ways with me and they had somebody else they had that could step in that role. It is just one of those things that happened and I moved on from it.”
And he's excited about his fresh start.
“No question," Rhodes said. "Whenever you come to a team that has expressed that they really want you here and is going to give you a chance to come out and play and make plays and help this team out; whenever you have that chance it is always a good thing.”
"I get to come here and help a team that’s already good. Just be another part," Rhodes added. "This team has had success the past few years and has been a good team. Just be able to come in and give my leadership and give my playmaking ability here and just try to help in any way I can. It is a going to be a good opportunity.”
Some thought Rhodes wasn't totally committed to being the best possible football player that he could be, and his off-the-field exploits and his acting and modeling aspirations got in the way. Did the Jets think he wasn't serious enough?
Rhodes said the club never conveyed those thoughts to him.
“Just get into it then. Maybe, they didn’t express it that way to me," Rhodes said. "They didn’t say that so I can’t. … I mean, anybody can speculate on whatever they want but that wasn’t what was told to me so I don’t know.”
Rhodes was due a $2-million roster bonus this Friday, and his arrival in Arizona helps the Cardinals fill a void left by the departure of safety Antrel Rolle, who signed a five-year, $37-million contract with the Giants Friday after the Cardinals waived him. It brought an end to the emotional roller-coaster ride he'd experienced over the last few months, which began in the aftermath of the Jets’ 31-14 loss to the Patriots on Nov. 22.
Rhodes was demoted two days later in favor of Eric Smith, in part because he had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. Rhodes' dedication was beginning to get called into question, and even defensive coordinator Mike Pettine didn't seem to believe Rhodes was all in.
He never got on the same page with Pettine, and Rex Ryan was also bothered Rhodes wasn’t spending much time with defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman. Ryan felt Rhodes, whom he originally thought could be as good as Ravens perennial Pro Bowl S Ed Reed, could improve his game by picking Thurman’s brain. Ryan was confident more time with Thurman would help maximize Rhodes’ potential.
Remember, he hadn't recorded a single turnover through the first 10 games.
Rhodes finally met with Thurman the first week of December, and after coming off the bench for two games, he regained his spot back in the starting base defense in the Jets’ 26-3 win in Tampa. He finished the season with respectable numbers, combining for 63 tackles, defensing 13 passes and collecting three interceptions.
“It was just a situation where we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye as a team, as a player, and as a franchise," Rhodes said. "I have a lot of respect for those guys with the Jets. They gave me my start. They gave me the big deal there to stay around for a little while and we just didn’t mesh that well at the end of that journey. So right now it is a chance for me to get a new start and have a new beginning here.”
But that new beginning involves a flashback, if you will. Rhodes will be reunited with Donnie Henderson, the Jets' former defensive coordinator. Henderson was recently hired as Arizona's defensive backs coach and Rhodes is eager to work with Henderson again.
“Yeah. It is going to fun, me and Donnie," he said. "They brought me in as a rookie with the Jets and it is a chance for me to reunite with him and he has a great track record with being a good defensive guy and a DB guy. It is going to fun to be with him and not come into a situation where I don’t know anybody. I know him and I know what he is about.”
Rhodes has already been hearing from a few of his new teammates. S Adrian Wilson, the guy he'll likely be lined up next to in the Cardinals' backfield, was one of the first to hit him up.
“Yeah, Adrian texted me as soon as he heard the news and he was excited," Rhodes said, "so that made me excited to know that he is excited about me coming in and being an integral part of helping this team get to where they want to be ultimately, and I’m thinking that is a championship. So I was glad to hear from him. Me and him together is going to be a nice little thing. I think everybody would agree with that.”
Wilson, however, wasn't the only one who's been in contact with his new teammate.
“Yeah. Larry [Fitzgerald] talked to me, he called me, he texted me," he said. "[Darnell] Dockett texted me. So those guys were excited. Whenever you have guys like that who are mainstays on the team and have been integral parts of the success of the team here and they welcome you with open arms, it’s a little bit of a relaxed state you get to go into and you get to be more calm about it.”
Rhodes is looking at the trade as a rebirth of sorts, a way for him to show that he still is the player the Jets felt was worthy of a five-year, $33.5 million contract extension two years ago.
“Right now, this is a chance for me to show everybody what I am about again," Rhodes said. "A chance to come and help a team that is ready to win. The other stuff is going to come. I think at the end of the day the better player you are the easier those other opportunities will be when you get done. So I know that the opportunity is there for me now to stake my claim here in Arizona and make plays and help this team win.”
“Just talking to coach," he added, "from the brief talks we’ve had, he wants me to come in and be versatile and that is the type of thing I like. I talked to him and in prior years before this past year, me having the ability to move around, be versatile and not just be classified as a free safety or a strong safety but just being able to move around and help this team out is going to be great. Because Adrian is a guy that’s versatile as well.
"So it’s going to be a good thing.”