Rogers' play as a shutdown CB earned big payday
The 49ers parted ways with one veteran cornerback on Thursday, but one they definitely would like to keep around will soon sign a big deal to return to the team. Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers has agreed to terms on a multi-year deal that will make him one of the highest-paid Niners, while the player he supplanted as the team’s starting left cornerback, Shawntae Spencer, has been released.
Rogers is returning to the 49ers just as he had hoped – and bringing him back keeps one of the NFL's top defenses intact heading into 2012.
It's clear the 49ers are working furiously at building another team to contend for a shot at the Super Bowl, and wrapping up one of their nine Pro Bowl players from 2011 – and one that was regarded as their top commodity on the free-agent market – is a major step in that direction.
Rogers has agreed on a $31.3 million, four-year contract, a person with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had yet to formally announce the deal. Rogers still needs to travel to the Bay Area in order to sign, and that could take a couple of days.
The 30-year-old Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson shared the team lead with six interceptions each last season for the NFC West champion 49ers – a total that tied for second in the NFC. Rogers had said he wanted to stay put with the Niners on a long-term deal.
The release of Spencer was expected after the ninth-year veteran slipped down the depth chart and out of the team’s plans last year after being San Francisco’s top cornerback for several of the previous seasons.
Spencer had started 32 consecutive games at cornerback entering last season – one of only 12 cornerbacks in the NFL to hold that distinction – and had the best season of his career in 2009. He entered training camp last summer as San Francisco’s presumptive No. 1 cornerback, but injuries kept him off the field during training camp and then – after the 49ers signed Rogers in August to start at left cornerback – Tarell Brown took charge as the other starting cornerback and never let go of the job.
Spencer played sparingly during the season, and he had slipped behind rookie Chris Culliver and youngster Tramaine Brock on the depth chart at cornerback. Spencer was fifth on the depth chart among the team’s five cornerbacks by the end of the year and was not active for San Francisco’s two playoff games.
Spencer was owed $3.2 million in base salary this season in the final year of his six-year, $20.425 million contract with the team, and the 49ers certainly weren’t going to have him back at that price. In fact, they probably didn’t plan to have him back at any price. The team earlier this year had given Spencer permission to seek a trade.
“The 49ers would like to thank Shawntae for his eight years of service to the organization and the Bay Area community,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. “He has always represented himself, his family and this organization with the utmost class. We wish him, and his family, the very best.”
Meanwhile, the 49ers got a best-case scenario with the return or Rogers at a reasonable price when it appeared he might price himself out of the team’s range as one of the top cornerbacks on this year’s open market. The return or Rogers and placing the franchise tag on Goldson means the 49ers will return their entire starting secondary intact.
That’s good news for the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense of 2011, a unit that had struggled in recent years to get consistent play and production from its back end.
"I'm excited about all the moves they made, especially keeping the defense the same," Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore said this week in a phone interview from Miami. "It was one of the best defenses last year. If they come back and play together they can be even better. We're going to be a good team."
It's been quite the week for the 49ers, who are gearing up for another playoff run after losing 20-17 in overtime of the NFC championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
On Monday, San Francisco signed wide receiver Randy Moss after he spent 2011 out of football, then brought in cornerback Perrish Cox on Tuesday to join a talented secondary that also includes safety Donte Whitner.
Gore is confident that the combination of Moss, Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis will open up the field and keep defenses guessing.
"Signing Randy Moss is really big for us. People have to respect him because of what he's done in this league as one of the best receivers and a future Hall of Famer," Gore said. "It's going to be big. Especially when you've got Vernon Davis, Crabtree, Randy Moss, players who can make plays, that should be easy on me.”
Moss vowed to be a positive influence despite his reputation for taking plays off and not going hard in practice. Gore isn't worried about Moss disrupting a strong chemistry.
"I think he will (fit in). I know Coach (Jim) Harbaugh and (general manager) Trent Baalke, they have a great eye for talent. If they made that choice, I think that's great," Gore said.
The team is still working to re-sign quarterback Alex Smith, with the sides saying the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick was weighing a three-year offer.
Smith's comeback season in 2011 under former NFL quarterback Harbaugh proved pivotal to the team ending an eight-year drought without a playoff berth or winning record. Smith took his share of boos and criticism during his initial six up-and-down seasons in the league.
The 49ers and Smith made it clear they wanted to get something done during the offseason to keep Smith with his only NFL franchise.
Smith is represented by Tom Condon and CAA Sports, and Condon is also working to get Peyton Manning signed with a new team — so there is some thinking that might happen before Smith re-signs. Condon and others in his agency haven't responded to multiple messages seeking an update on negotiations.
"Alex, he's a tough guy. I like him a lot, especially with all the stuff he went through and getting put in the situations Coach Harbaugh put him in and believing in him," Gore said. "He got the chance he really never had there from an offensive standpoint. It showed he can play ball. He went through a whole lot, man. I think Alex is going to take his game to a whole other level, especially coming off the year he just had."