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Rhodes reverses Cardinals' downhill course

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Dan Arkush
Executive editor

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Posted March 07, 2010 @ 6:41 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Just one day after what seemed like full-scale Armageddon for many Cardinals boosters, newly acquired S Kerry Rhodes immediately added a badly needed ray of sunshine in the desert. While Rhodes, who was obtained in a trade Saturday with the Jets in exchange for Arizona's fourth-round selection in the 2010 NFL draft and seventh-round draft choice in 2011, doesn't come close to completely offsetting the departures of three key high-profile Cardinals starters the previous day (WR Anquan Boldin, ILB Karlos Dansby and FS Antrel Rolle), it suddenly doesn't seem nearly as depressing in Cardinals Nation as it seemed at the end of the day Friday.

With Kurt Warner having already dramatically weakened the Cardinals' roster in the eyes of many with his recent retirement, the losses of Boldin — the Cardinals' all-time leading receiver who was traded along with a fifth-round pick to Baltimore in exchange for two picks in the 2010 draft, a third-rounder and a fourth-rounder — and free-agent defectors Dansby (to the Dolphins) and Rolle (to the Giants) triggered an understandable funk of major proportions. But the 6-3, 214-pound Rhodes, a mostly reliable starter in his five years with the Jets, offers what appears to be a quick, dependable fix at Rolle's vacated free safety position at a much more affordable salary.

"We all know that the safety position was a hole we needed to fill," said Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, acknowledging the five-year, $37 million contract from the Giants that made Rolle the NFL's highest-paid safety. "To be able to do that so quickly, and with a proven starter off the NFL's No. 1 defense, is a tremendous positive for our football team. Kerry has the experience and ability to step in right away. He fits a lot of the things that we do defensively, and the prospect of having him alongside a perennial All-Pro like Adrian Wilson is very exciting."

The PFW spin

Make no mistake. After losing four significant starters, counting Warner, Whisenhunt will have his work cut out for him in earning the hefty new long-term contract he recently received. But give him and the Cardinals credit for moving quickly and efficiently to replace Rolle, who, according to most league talent evaluators in the know, doesn't deserve to be even among the five highest-paid safeties in the NFL.

Yes, Rolle can be a dynamic difference maker with his playmaking flair and nose for the endzone. But when he says he and former University of Miami (Fla.) teammate Kenny Phillips now give the Giants the league's best safety tandem, he's barking up the wrong tree.

Truth be told, most Cardinals insiders will tell you that Rolle was very serviceable but far from spectacular this past season. Yes, Rolle earned a Pro Bowl berth as an alternate. But so did a lot of undeserving guys in a year in which so many actual selections avoided the Pro Bowl like the plague. Yes, Rolle made some big plays in 2009 but he just as often got burned. As Arizona Republic beat writer and PFW correspondent Kent Somers pointed out in a Saturday blog, Rolle would still be considered a big-time goat if Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had not overthrown a wide-open Greg Jennings with Rolle covering him on the first play of overtime in the Cardinals' classic wild-card victory over Green Bay in January.

It says here that a strong case can be made for Rhodes being a more polished, proven free safety right now than Rolle, a converted cornerback who actually remains a relative work in progress at the position. The 27-year-old Rhodes (the same age as Rolle) started 78 of the 80 games in which he played in his five-year career with the Jets. He did have a well-documented rough stretch this season that resulted in a two-game benching, but he redeemed himself with his strong play in the playoffs and has a history worth noting with new Cardinals secondary coach Donnie Henderson, formerly the Jets' defensive coordinator.

That said, while Rhodes looks like a solid replacement for Rolle, the Cardinals definitely need to stay on a roll and aggressively continue pursuing more reinforcements — a task that figures to be made easier with the $30 million or so that has been made available with the departures of Warner, Boldin, Dansby and Rolle and the likely exits of high-priced, aging free agents such as OT Mike Gandy and OLB Chike Okeafor.

While the consensus among team insiders is that the team can adequately survive the losses of Rolle and Boldin, the loss of Dansby creates a gaping hole in the middle of a defense that struggled mightily in the playoffs.

With no viable replacement for Dansby in sight and plenty of doubts about Matt Leinart's ability to replace Warner under center, the Cardinals no longer can be considered a clear-cut front-runner in the NFC West next season by any means.


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