Arguably the biggest issue the San Francisco 49ers had to address in the off-season was the secondary. Lucky for the 49ers, the NFL's top cornerbacks were free agents. However, instead of pursuing Johnathan Joseph or Nnamdi Asomugha, the 49ers signed Carlos Rogers. Many 49er fans were initially frustrated by the signing of the Washington Redskins castoff. So far, Carlos Rogers has been the 49ers best offseason move.
The secondary held the 49ers defense back last year. It is true that the 49ers lack of a pass rush wasn't making life any easier for the secondary. Except none of the cornerbacks on the 49ers roster were worthy of the titles "lock down corner" or "ball hawk." In fact the 49ers pass defense ranked 24th in the league. Most of the blame was pinned on Nate Clements.
Clements inherited heavy expectations when he signed an eight year, $80 million contract in 2007, making him the highest paid cornerback in the league at the time. Clements actually had a decent career as a 49er. When you're the highest paid cornerback in the league though, fans expect you to play like the best cornerback in the league. Unfortunately, Clements never came close to meeting those expectations.
During the offseason the 49ers were not willing to pay 17 million to a 31 year old cornerback whose coverage skills were diminishing. The 49ers also knew that Clements was the only cornerback on their team worth starting. Which is why they tried to restructure Clements contract. However the two sides could not come to an agreement and the 49ers had no choice but to release Clements. As a free agent, he signed a two year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals.
With the millions the 49ers saved by cutting Clements, many expected the 49ers to pursue the top cornerbacks available on the market. As a result there was speculation that the 49ers were in a bidding war with the New York Jets for Nnamdi Asomugha. In a turn of events Asomugha signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and it became evident that 49ers were never in the running for Asomugha. Instead the 49ers brought in Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner.
Carlos Rogers was not wanted by his former team, the Washington Redskins. Even though the Redskins made him a top 10 draft pick, Rogers career was marked by inconsistency and injuries. In his six year stint with the Redskins, he was only able to play 16 games twice. Rogers had no desire to return to the Redskins either, as the Redskins had lost a total of 30 games the past three seasons.
Going into the season, little was expected from him. The 49ers signed Rogers to a low risk one year contract and Rogers had to compete for a starting position. Rogers showed the 49ers enough in the preseason to win the starting cornerback position. Through five games, Rogers has only exceeded the 49ers expectations.
Rogers strength has always been in man to man coverage, and according to Football Outsiders he ranked 7th in the league in passes defended in 2008. Injuries have prevented him from taking the next step, and in 2009 when he played on a sore calf for most of the season, he ranked only 67th in the league in passes defended. So far he has managed to stay healthy and has been playing lock down man to man coverage. Rogers has held A.J. Green, Mike Williams and other teams number one receivers under 100 yards. He also has not had a touchdown scored against him. That kind of lock down coverage gets an island named after you.
Another area that Rogers has helped the 49ers, is in creating turnovers. Rogers has never been known as a ball hawk and only had six career interceptions in his six year stint with the Redskins. However through five games, Rogers already has three interceptions. Including a pick six. Before then, Rogers had never picked off more then two passes in a season.
The 49ers could have listened to the fans and broken the bank for Nnamdi Asomugha. The 49ers did that though when they signed Nate Clements and look where that got them. Instead, the 49ers went the cheaper route and signed Rogers to a contract worth 5 million dollars. Rogers has been worth every penny so far. Asomugha, on the other hand, has not been worth the 60 million dollar contract he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was even beat by Michael Crabtree multiple times when the Eagles played the 49ers in Week 4.
Yes, the 49ers pass defense is still ranked 24th and gives up big plays, but don't blame Rogers. Instead, blame the cornerbacks across from him, Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock. It was Brock, not Rogers, who was responsible for guarding Miles Austin when he caught three touchdown passes. The safeties also have not played well for the 49ers. It was Donte Whitner, not Rogers, that bit on the play fake and let Jesse Holley run down the field for a 77 yard gain.Which, setup the Dallas Cowboys for an overtime winning field goal.
Yes Rogers did struggle when he was given the task of guarding DeSean Jackson. However, the safeties also did a poor job of taking away the deep ball from Jackson. There isn't any cornerback in the league, not even Darrelle Revis, that can match Jackson's speed. If the 49ers can find a better supporting cast for Rogers, the 49ers could have one of the top passing defenses in the league.
Carlos Rogers has played at such a level this season, that if he continues at this rate, he will make the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. When you consider how much of a bargain Rogers was, it's easy to see why signing Rogers was the best offseason move by the team.
As previously noted, Carlos Rogers signed only a one year contract. Rogers must figure into the 49ers long season plans and the 49ers would be smart to resign Rogers. Until then, we can only hope Rogers maintains his Pro Bowl season.