After a third straight gut-wrenching loss deep in the playoffs cost them a sixth Lombardi Trophy, the San Francisco 49ers will look long and hard at each aspect of their roster as they determine who to keep and who to let go. While the secondary statistically ranked among the league’s best, surrendering 221.0 passing yards per game, good for seventh in the National Football League, it was clear towards the end of the season and in the playoffs that the unit lacked consistency. The secondary rarely gave up long touchdowns, but down the stretch, it gave up a lot of yards and, most worrisome, a lot of first downs.
At this point, it is a guarantee that Trent Baalke and the front office will use plenty of time this offseason to assess the future of the cornerback and safety positions. A championship team needs to have a strong pass defense, especially deep in the playoffs when it has to go up against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. The 49ers have several free agents in the secondary, such as starters Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner. The decisions on whether or not those two are resigned will likely determine the outlook of the Niner secondary in 2014.
The biggest decision at the cornerback position, however, is likely going to be the fate of Carlos Rogers. After signing a cheap one-year deal with the 49ers in 2011, Rogers had a banner year, recording 43 total tackles and six interceptions. He was voted as a starter on the NFC Pro Bowl team and picked as a Associated Press Second-Team All-Pro. Rogers established himself as a fixture on the Niner defense and as one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the league. The Niners rewarded him with a four-year, $31.3 million dollar contract extension. While he put up respectable numbers in 2012, he was clearly not the same player he was the year before, as he was noticeably slower and looked his age (31).
In 2013, he had his worst season as a 49er. His age had clearly caught up with him, as younger, faster receivers burned him in coverage and opposing quarterbacks went out of their way to target him. With the emergence of Tramaine Brock and a healthy Tarell Brown, Rogers was demoted to nickel cornerback in the playoffs. That didn’t stop Russell Wilson from targeting him, as he was noticeably the one covering Jermaine Kearse on his go-ahead touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.
Now, the question for the 49ers is — do they still retain Rogers after his noticeable drop-off in play and the number of players they need to resign?
There is still the option of asking Rogers to take a pay cut. Last offseason, the Niners reportedly approached Rogers about accepting a pay cut, but Chris Culliver‘s torn ACL in training camp gave Roger the necessary leverage he needed to avoid that situation. This time, the 49ers have the leverage.
If you ask this particular writer, releasing Carlos Rogers is the best move for this franchise. Knowing how durable he has been over the last three seasons and how valuable experience is in the playoffs, the Niners will more than likely first ask him to accept a sizable pay cut. Rogers is simply not good enough to be the highest paid player on the roster. In my opinion, the 49ers would be better served letting the veteran go and rebuilding the cornerback position through the draft. The recently extended Tramaine Brock stands to be the No. 1 cornerback next season. Chris Culliver, who was showing signs of rapid improvement two seasons ago before his injury, will get his fair share of snaps, whether he starts or plays the nickel. The 49ers are reportedly optimistic about retaining the incumbent Tarell Brown, making a trio of cornerbacks who deserve more snaps than Rogers, not to mention the rookie cornerback the Niners will likely draft.
In short, there are too many more talented players ahead of him on the depth chart for the 49ers to justify retaining such a pricey piece in Carlos Rogers. While his contributions were much appreciated, particularly his durability and his presence in run support, over the last three seasons, the NFL is a business. Carlos Rogers has outplayed his usefulness. We wish him well in his future endeavors.