The contract situation of Carlos Rogers has been at the forefront of the San Francisco 49ers’ offseason so far this year. While Rogers is under contract through 2015, his $8.1 million cap figure hangs as an albatross around San Francisco’s neck. Rogers is slated to count the most against the salary cap in 2014, a level of compensation not up to par with his performance.
While keeping Rogers at his current salary seems a bit out of the question, the team still has several options on how to deal with his situation. Cutting Rogers would free roughly $5.1 million against the cap, allowing the 49ers more flexibility to extend key players like Colin Kaepernick or Michael Crabtree or sign their own free agents like Donte Whitner or Tarell Brown.
That isn’t the only way to save money, however—while nearly $3 million of his contract is guaranteed as part of a signing bonus, future salaries aren’t set in stone. Indeed, Matt Maiocco reports that the 49ers will ask Rogers to cut his salary by more than half if he wants to remain with the team.
How much should Carlos Rogers be making, and is there any number that would justify his roster slot? Let’s take a closer look at his performance last year and try to project it going forward.
Rogers started all 16 regular-season games for the 49ers last season, but he was relegated to a backup role in the NFC Championship Game after suffering a hamstring injury in Week 17. In his absence, Tramaine Brock and Tarell Brown acquitted themselves well, holding Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton to a combined 442 passing yards.
According to Pro Football Focus’ charting (subscription required), Rogers was targeted 98 times over the course of the season, allowing 59 receptions—a catch rate of 60.2 percent. It seemed, at times, that Rogers had lost a step in coverage—turning 32 will do that to you.
The reports of Rogers’ decline are somewhat exaggerated, however. Yes, he’s not the player he was when the 49ers gave him a contract extension in 2011. In retrospect, that six-interception season seems like a bit of a fluke, far outside his standard level of performance. Throw that out, and Rogers’ 2013 season is well in line with his historical level of production—it’s not worse than he performed last year, for example.
Of course, the 49ers reportedly asked Rogers to take a pay cut last season, as well. He refused, and the subsequent injury to Chris Culliver and poor performance from Nnamdi Asomugha forced San Francisco’s hand. They let Rogers play the 2013 season out under his original contract.
This year, the 49ers are better set up for life without Rogers, with Culliver returning from his injury and Tramaine Brock coming off of a breakout season, meaning the team can stand firm on their contract demands this offseason.
It’s important to note that Rogers still has some value as a player, especially in a slot cornerback role. According to Pro Football Focus, Rogers was tied for the league lead in cover snaps per reception in the slot—opposing players only caught a pass once for every 11.6 routes they ran against Rogers. The 1.05 yards per coverage snap Rogers allowed was in the top 15, as was the 73.9 quarterback rating opposing players had when targeting Rogers.
That level of performance is definitely solid for a role player—the issue is that he’s getting paid way too much for a role player. Rogers is currently slated to have the 14th highest cap figure among cornerbacks in 2014. That’s nowhere near in line with what a player of that caliber should be making.
Assuming he even remains at that level, of course, ignores the effects of aging. Rogers will turn 33 in July, and there has to be concerns about how long he can retain the same level of physical performance. He was already beginning to struggle with the younger, faster receivers in the league, and that’s not a trend that’s going to reverse itself.
Using Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value stat and their season-finding tools, I looked at players who had similar seasons to Rogers in their age-30 to age-32 seasons. Of the 10 players that the system found, five played one more season and then were out of the NFL for good, including one of Football Outsider’s top comparables, Sheldon Brown. The best-case scenario was Aeneas Williams’ career, who was an All-Pro at age 33 with the Rams, but it’s safe to say Carlos Rogers really isn’t in the same league as a Hall of Famer like Williams.
Cornerbacks just don’t continue to play at a high level in their mid-30s. Last season, there was less than a handful of solid corners older than 33. Seven cornerbacks saw the field in their “old age” last season, and only four—Rashean Mathis, Terence Newman, Ike Taylor and Charles Woodson—started at least half the year. It’s just difficult to keep up with receivers in their 20s as age catches up with players.
Rogers might be fine this season, but that’s about it. If he was a free agent on the market, he might be worth a one-year deal somewhere in the $3 million range or so, simply as a bridge at the slot cornerback position until a rookie could develop. If the 49ers can get Rogers to cut his base salary down to something like $1.2 million, the finances might be enough to keep him around. They’d have about the same savings if they cut him, after all.
There are two problems with that scenario, however—one on Rogers’ side and one on San Francisco’s.
If you’re Carlos Rogers, why would you accept that sort of pay cut? You’re still an adequate starter in the league, and if the 49ers don’t want you, surely someone else might. The Colts, for example, have $40 million in cap space and a gaping hole in the secondary with Vontae Davis as a free agent and not much behind him. Rogers would be an upgrade over Josh Gordy for a season.
There are a number of teams who would be willing to offer Rogers a one-year deal for more money than San Francisco could really afford to pay him, considering the signing bonus they’re already on the hook for. Rogers’ stance in last year’s contract negotiations indicates he wouldn’t cut the team a sweetheart deal of any sort, so just from a numbers stance, that would push Rogers out of town.
From the 49ers point of view, Rogers isn’t likely to contribute very much after 2014. Keeping him this season, at any cost, is just punting finding a long-term solution down the road in a year. They still could re-sign Tarell Brown, which would bump Rogers down to the dime corner, and there’s a good chance they will draft a cornerback in the first round of this year’s draft.
While Rogers’ experience and leadership is a real asset, it might make more sense to give some of those snaps and repetitions to a player who could be around for the long term, rather than an aging, fading player like Rogers. Someone like Jason Verrett of TCU could be on the team in 2015 and beyond; Rogers is not likely to be there. Why use the roster spot?
All in all, I don’t think it makes sense for either Rogers or the 49ers to stay in this relationship from here on out, barring some unforeseen injury with the players the team has already on the roster. The 49ers can’t be stuck overpaying for one great season from Rogers, and Rogers is worth more to another team out there. That’s why Rogers should be released before the June 1 deadline, regardless of how much of a pay cut he’s willing to take.