Rogers was a significant factor in the rise of San Francisco’s defense into one of the NFL’s most formidable units this past season.
Sliding comfortably into the starting role on the left side and quickly establishing himself as the team’s No. 1 cornerback, Rogers produced a career season and was a bargain for the one-year, $4.25 million deal the Niners paid him on Aug. 3 to join the team as a free agent.
That price, however, most definitely will be going up.
Rogers proved to be a top-level cover corner, and those are difficult to find in the NFL. He also shed a shaky-hands label that had followed him throughout his career, finishing fourth in the NFL with a career-high six interceptions – just two fewer than he had recorded in his first six NFL seasons with the Washington Redskins.
Rogers, a first-round selection by Washington in 2005, was a respectable cornerback with the Redskins, starting 68 games with the team. But he reached a higher level in his first season in San Francisco. He led the 49ers with 18 passes defensed and was a versatile player the 49ers could move around to cover slot receivers and also send from the edge on the occasional surprise blitz.
He had the best season by a San Francisco cornerback since Walt Harris’ Pro Bowl season of 2006. And now he wants to get paid for it.
Rogers made that pretty clear the day after the 49ers lost in the NFC Championship Game, when he reiterated his long-held stance that he wanted to return to the team but also let everybody know he’s expecting a big payday after the best season of his career.
“My preference is to be back,” Rogers said then. “I want to be back. Now it’s about putting the team first in my decision, but also you want to be compensated for where you think you’re at and where the market puts you at. They said definitely (they) want me back, but at the same time, will they be able to match an offer from the 31 other teams?”
Oops. Probably not. The 49ers clearly want Rogers to return, and are receptive to paying him market value and rewarding him with a lucrative contract, but the team’s new regime isn’t in to overpaying anybody, and they have a number in mind for every free agent, Rogers included.
The 49ers have until Sunday to use the franchise designation on Rogers, but that is unlikely. The one-year franchise tender for a cornerback this year is $10.6 million, more than any other position besides quarterback. The Niners may indeed offer Rogers a lucrative long-term deal, but for one year they are likely to shy away from such an exorbitant amount.
The last question Rogers was asked Jan. 23 before he departed into the offseason was if he would take a hometown discount.
“I’ll take a team discount,” Rogers replied. “Hometown discount, that’s real low. To just consider the team first, I definitely would. I like this, from the owner, the general manager to everybody in this organization. I like everything about this organization – the trainers, all the players, everything. This isn’t about me coming out saying, ‘OK, now I’m free. Let’s get the check.’ I’m thinking about the team and this is where I want to be first of all.”
Rogers was interviewed on SiriusX NFL Radio earlier this week after Brooks signed a six-year, $44.5 million deal that looked a little high at face value for the first-year starter.
“I’m happy for him,” Rogers said. “It’s surprising, but get what you can get. … The 49ers is where my heart is at. They want me back. It’s a business, both for them and me. Hopefully, we get something worked out. I’m hoping we get something done so I don’t test free agency.”
But that is the direction Rogers appears headed with the start of free agency now fewer than two weeks away.
The Rogers breakdown
2011 performance: Rogers started all 18 games at left cornerback and established himself as a force in the secondary and an instrumental part in the rise of San Francisco’s defense into a formidable unit. Rogers wasn’t flawless, but he could be counted on as a top cover corner who would compete with every receiver and make as many plays as he allowed in coverage. Rogers was second in the NFC and fourth in the NFL with six interceptions and led the 49ers with 18 passes defensed. Named a NFC starter in the Pro Bowl, Rogers also was a sure tackler in the open field with 50 of his 57 tackles being solo stops.
2011 season grade: A
Why he’s worth keeping: Rogers gave the 49ers significant impact as a No. 1 cornerback, and those kind of performers are some of the most difficult to find in the NFL. Rogers fit well as both a player and individual into the framework of what the 49ers are trying to accomplish, and he’s a good fit on the back end of the team’s 3-4 defensive system. Coming off the best season of his career, Rogers is a confident player in his prime and still would appear to have at least a few years left of top-level performance.
Why he’s not worth keeping: His price tag. The 49ers already have seen firsthand what happens when you pay the big bucks for a top free-agent cornerback. The blockbuster contract San Francisco gave Nate Clements in 2007 proved to be a mistake, and the Niners don’t want to see something like that happen again. If he hits the open market, Rogers is likely to receive an offer from another team that is higher than what the 49ers have in mind to pay him.
Where he would fit with the 2012 49ers: Rogers would reprise his role as San Francisco’s No. 1 cornerback as the starter on the left side and would be used in ways similar to his role in 2011.
How he would be replaced: The Niners likely would give highly-regarded Chris Culliver, their 2011 third-round draft pick who became the team’s No. 3 nickel cornerback as a rookie last year, a shot at the starting lineup. The team also likes young No. 4 corner Tramaine Brock. If Rogers departs, San Francisco also likely would consider options in free agency and the draft to bolster the position, which the team may do even if Rogers returns.
Market interest level: High. Legitimate, No. 1 cover corners are difficult to find and a coveted commodity in the NFL. Rogers won’t be waiting around for attractive offers as a free agent like he was last summer. He is going to get a big payday from somebody. The only question is how big and for how long his new deal will be.
49ers interest level: High. Of course the 49ers want Rogers to return. He was a key player in their success and resounding turnaround last season. San Francisco struck gold with Rogers in free agency last summer, and the team realizes he’s a premium performer at a premium position that would be difficult to replace.
It’s a bit trickier than it might appear on the surface with Rogers because of the big money that’s almost certain to be involved with any deal that could entice him to return to the team. The 49ers really have to consider if Rogers can continue to play up to his 2011 level in the future, because they will be paying him to play at least at the level for any years they expect him to play out on any contract he would sign. Overpaying for the product is a real consideration for the team here. The deal they just gave Brooks may hurt the Niners in any negotiations with Rogers, making it less likely he’ll give them that “team discount.” That said, the Niners should make every effort to work out a deal that would convince Rogers to stay, with that deal getting done before other teams get an opportunity to throw money at him on the open market.