Far from ‘game over’ on Eric Rogers’ NFL dreams

Eric Rogers has sharpened his skills on the virtual football field and now he’s ready to get back to the real thing.

The former Calgary Stampeders receiver tore his ACL early in training camp with San Francisco last August and Rogers has spent more than a year recovering and rehabbing, including many stints on the couch with his video game controller. It was the first major injury he’s suffered in his pro career.

“My Madden skills are top notch right now,” Rogers says while laughing. “I guess it was my turn to get hurt.”

The six-foot-four, 215-pounder made an impact during Calgary’s 2014 Grey Cup run and followed that up by leading the CFL in receiving yards in 2015. That drew interest from more than 20 NFL teams, including 16 who met or worked Rogers out.

Chip Kelly attended one of those sessions while head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and after being fired and hired by the 49ers, Rogers was literally his first phone call. San Francisco gave him $125,000 signing bonus and guaranteed $100,000 of his salary, the most up front money since Cam Wake got $1 million from Miami in 2008. After the ACL tear and meniscus damage caused Rogers to miss the entire 2016 season, Kelly was fired and a new regime was brought to San Fran, featuring general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Rogers was experiencing stiffness in the knee post-surgery and an MRI revealed that arthroscopic surgery could help free it up. Dr. James Andrews, who performed the initial procedure, cleaned up the scar tissue.

“When I woke up I felt an immediate release of tension,” the 24-year-old pass catcher says.

On the day of the scope, the 49ers called and released Rogers. He believes it was because a roster spot was needed for a healthy player and the new coaching staff hadn’t been able to spend any time with him due to the injury. Since then Rogers has gotten to the point where he’s ready to visit Dr. Andrews in September to get final clearance.

“As far as moving around like I used to, I knew I was getting a lot better because I was able to chase my daughter, Kalea, around the house,” Rogers says.

The Covina, California resident didn’t want to rush back for training camp two-a-days, especially with NFL teams continuing to express interest. There are franchises that have contacted Rogers’ camp every couple of weeks.

“I wanted to take the extra month or month and a half to make sure I’m confident in my leg and preserve my body so when I do get cleared I’m ready to go work out for teams or whatever pops up for me,” Rogers says.

Once given the go-ahead, finding a squad in the NFL will be his focus, though he didn’t completely rule out a return to the CFL.

“If something doesn’t work out there is a slim chance that I may be able to go up there,” Rogers says. “If I’m not in a position that I think that I have an opportunity to succeed [in the NFL], it would be more likely for next year if that was the case.”

Calgary general manager John Hufnagel feels confident that Rogers would call the Stampeders if his NFL opportunities are exhausted. Meanwhile, Stamps receivers coach Pete Costanza keeps in regular contact with Rogers.

“We always tell him if it doesn’t work out or you’re done chasing that train come on back, we’re here for you,” Costanza says.

Rogers has watched at least some of every Stampeders game this season and says he would feel comfortable returning to Calgary.

“As long as Bo [Levi Mitchell] is there I for sure would definitely like to be in Calgary. Bo, I feel is the top competitor and top QB up there, I may be a little biased, but he’s a winner and I like playing with winners.”

Former coaches and teammates in Calgary continue to support Rogers as he pursues his NFL dream and the Stampeders are realistic about his chances of returning. Costanza raved about Rogers play-making ability, how he high-points the football, uses long strides to chew up cushion and get up on defensive backs quickly, possesses great hands and ability to go vertical and across the middle, plus all the physical traits and speed to make him an intriguing NFL receiver.

“From the NFL guys I’ve talked to on different teams that worked him out that I know, they all liked him,” Costanza says.

If he makes the NFL, Rogers will have less time for Madden – but he will be able to play the game using himself.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.