Eric Rogers was in his Indianapolis hotel room on yet another trip to visit with an NFL team in mid-January when his phone rang.
Just a couple hours earlier, 49ers CEO Jed York announced the hiring of head coach Chip Kelly. One of Kelly’s first moves was to place a call to Rogers.
“He called and told me he wanted me to be his first signing,” Rogers told CSNBayArea.com. “That was pretty cool.”
After an ultra-productive 2015 season with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, Rogers was a hot commodity for NFL teams. He visited 16 teams in December and January and received 13 contract offers.
In one week in mid-December, Rogers had a workout with the 49ers that impressed general manager Trent Baalke. Four days later, Rogers had a memorable experience while visiting the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rogers went through his workout while several members of the Eagles’ coaching staff watched. Afterward, he met with wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell for about an hour. The head coach also spent a considerable amount of time with him.
“I met with Chip for about 30 minutes,” Rogers said. “It was a good conversation. It surprised me because they had a game in two days and he took the time to meet with me.”
During his day with the Eagles, Rogers began to feel confident he could fit into Kelly’s offensive system.
“They dress six receivers and they move around a lot, so you have to know all the positions,” Rogers said. “I pride myself in knowing the offense. Even if I’m not at that position, I know what they’re doing on the other side.
“I think I can fit in, both inside and outside, because I play a little bit of slot. I know how to run those intermediate routes.”
Eleven days after sitting with the coach in his office, the Eagles fired Kelly. Approximately two weeks later, Kelly ended up with 49ers and brought Bicknell with him.
“Everything fell into place,” Rogers said. “Trent Baalke was staying as the GM, and that was good because I met with him. I knew he was interested. And Chip was interested. So things lined up.”
Rogers, indeed, became the first addition to the 49ers' roster after Kelly's appointment as head coach. He signed a two-year contract with the 49ers that includes a $125,000 signing bonus. Also, the club guaranteed $100,000 of his $450,000 salary for the upcoming season — assuring he will, at worst, have a place on the practice squad.
The 49ers likely envision Rogers with the ability to make an impact on an offense that figures to feature more multi-receiver formations than the 49ers have employed in recent seasons.
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The 49ers’ top wide receiver of the past three seasons, Anquan Boldin, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, DeAndre Smelter, Jerome Simpson, DeAndrew White and Dres Anderson also remain on the 49ers’ offseason roster.
Rogers, who turned 25 last week, looks the part. He is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. And he put up the statistics to match during his only full season in the CFL. He caught 87 passes for 1,448 yards and 10 touchdowns in 17 games last season with Calgary.
Rogers originally signed with the Stampeders practice roster in 2014 after one season with the Portland Thunder of the Arena Football League.
“He’s out there on our PR and he’s going against our first-team defense giving scout looks, and the kid is getting open and making plays consistently,” Stampeders wide receivers coach Pete Costanza said. “The more we watched him against our starting defense, the more we kept saying, ‘We got to get this guy on the field and see what he can do.’ Eric seized full momentum of it and he ran with it, and he never really looked back.”
That has been the story of Rogers’ life.
Raised in Covina by his single mother, Carrie Barron, Rogers has always put short-term disappointment behind him while continuing to work for toward a larger goal.
He attended Cal Lutheran, an NCAA Division III program, where he set every significant receiving record. He was not invited to the NFL scouting combine, instead taking a great sense of satisfaction from being invited to Green Bay on a pre-draft visit.
He signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted rookie, but was cut toward the end of training camp and was not offered a spot on the team's practice squad.
That sent Rogers on a football journey to the Arena League and CFL. The Ottawa Redblacks of the CFL signed him in February 2014, but released him two months later before ever seeing him play in a game.
“He’s been motivated forever,” Barron said. “He’s always been a high achiever. He stays focused and he listens. If somebody tells him what it takes, he strives for it.
“He always said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be an NFL player. I’m going to make it.’ I told him, ‘Baby, whatever your dream is, you can do it. You have to stay on track and focus. The only person who can stop you is you.’”
While a good portion of his track toward the NFL has played out in obscurity, Rogers will certainly get a good chance with the 49ers. He believes the circuitous route toward this opportunity has worked to his advantage.
“My ego isn’t too big to go play in the Arena League or CFL,” Rogers said. “I went to a Division III college, so I went the long way from the beginning. To wait another year or two wasn’t that big of a deal.
“I’m coming in more mature and more knowledgable about the game. I picked up things from the Arena League. I picked up things from the CFL. I picked up things in the NFL with the Cowboys.
“Now, I’m going to bring all that together into my game now. A lot of guys make the practice squad right out of college and spend two or three years on the practice squad, and that’s about it. I have a chance to come in and make a team. I might be on the practice squad, but I also might make the team and have a chance to play right away.”
Costanza said Rogers has size, speed and soft hands — things that cannot be taught. But he also describes Rogers as a great student with the ideal mental makeup.
“He’s fearless when he goes over the dark area of the field in the middle,” Costanza said. “His compete-factor and his confidence in his own abilities are probably his two greatest attributes. He’s always going to compete. Whether it’s practice or a preseason game, he’s going to give you his best. That quiet intensity is going to fuel him down there.”
The big test for the long-striding Rogers as he makes the transition to the NFL will be his ability to avoid disruptions in the first five yards off the line of scrimmage. He played all receiver positions in the CFL, but he had the advantage as a slotback of being allowed to waggle — to motion toward the line of scrimmage before the snap. He will not have that luxury in the NFL.
“My one concern how he’d do at the workouts without the waggle and how he’d do against press coverage, like other guys who went down (to the NFL) from up here,” Costanza said. “But when you get to know Eric and figure out who he is and the background he came from, he’s had to work at everything. He’s always believed in himself. He’ll do fine. I’m real confident he’ll be the same pro down there that he was up here.”
But Rogers believes the physical nature of the NFL game ultimately works to his advantage.
“I watch a lot of NFL, and they get away with a lot of contact and hand-fighting down the field,” Rogers said. “And it’s rare that guys are wide open. My length, my size, and my ball skills allow me to go up and make those plays even if a guy is on me.
“Hopefully, the quarterbacks see me doing that in practices and games and they’ll gain more confidence in me to make those throws more often.”