Through the first three games, the Redskins defense has given up an average of 488 yards per game -- 333 of those through the air -- for an average of 32.8 points against. That puts Washington on pace to give up the most yards in NFL history. It's safe to say the team could use some reinforcements, especially at safety, where the oft-injured Brandon Meriweather and rookie Bacarri Rambo have struggled to keep opponents out of the end zone.
As luck would have it, there is a talented free agent safety available for the taking: Kerry Rhodes. He was part of the league's fifth-best pass defense while playing in Arizona last season. He racked up 67 combined tackles, 58 solo, one sack, two forced fumbles, four interceptions, and 11 passes defended. The performance was good enough for Pro Football Focus to rank him the number four safety in the league.
And yet no teams brought in Rhodes for offseason work outs. The Giants checked him out on September 17, but he left without signing. The guy remains a free agent. Why? Well, that question doesn't have a clear-cut answer.
The 31-year-old veteran isn't getting any younger, and he has a reputation as a bit of a diva in the locker room. The Cardinals tried to persuade him to take a pay cut at the end of last season, still offering in the neighborhood of $2 million -- he declined. And not everyone agrees that he's a top-flight talent: ESPN ranked Rhodes number 17 of the top 50 free agent safeties. Star player or middle of the road, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
The elephant in the room is the rumor that Rhodes is gay. This summer, Media Take Out published a series of photos (since taken down) showing the NFL veteran being affectionate with his alleged boyfriend. Rhodes vehemently denies being a homosexual, but the suspicion remains and may be keeping him unemployed.
It's always possible that old-school, conservative GMs and coaches want nothing to do with a gay man on the team. More likely, in my opinion, is that front offices know there are closeted homosexuals on their rosters and don't care because it doesn't cause an issue. Decisions in the NFL come down to wins and losses, dollars and cents. Franchises are focused on winning, and to do that they need a group of talented athletes that mesh well as a team.
If GMs are reticent about bringing in an outed homosexual, it's probably because they worry about how the other players would react, not because of philosophical objections or concerns about talent. Fears of intolerant locker rooms may be overblown in this day and age, but they're not entirely unfounded. When asked about Rhodes, Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith had this to say: "I don't know Kerry. We don't go in the same circles. We ain't in the same circles. We ain't in the same circles. I'll let that be."
The outed player could have all the talent and charisma in the world, but if he's rejected by his teammates, he can't be as effective on the field. That would cost a team money at best, wins at worst. When it comes to something as deeply personal as sexuality, the NFL calculous might not be personal at all.
Let's get back to the Redskins. Kerry Rhodes' 2012 performance alone should be enough for Washington to bring him in for a work out. Now consider our dismal pass defense, and reaching out to him becomes a no-brainer. The team would have no obligation to sign him, so evaluating the guy should be all reward and no risk. But what if the Skins did want him? The nine-year veteran is due a minimum salary of $840,000 [UPDATE: Steve Shoup points out that a veteran's minimum $840,000 would only count $555,000 against the cap due to the CBA's minimum salary benefit. NFL contracts are prorated, so missing three games makes Rhodes even less expensive]. Not cheap, but still doable with Washington's roughly $1.4 million in cap space. And there's nothing like sitting on the couch through the first three games of the season to convince a player to take whatever offer he gets.
The case of Kerry Rhodes is certainly a curious one. Is he being blackballed for his sexuality? I don't think I'm qualified to say for sure. But I am qualified to say that the Redskins need help at safety. And that football decisions should be made about football, nothing personal.