This was not the season that Eli Rogers envisioned for himself about a year ago at this time. Coming off his first healthy season after spending his rookie year with the Pittsburgh Steelers on injured reserve for a foot injury, the diminutive product of Louisville quickly earned himself a role in the slot, catching 48 passes for 594 yards and three touchdowns.
Undoubtedly, he was expecting bigger and better things from what was essentially year two. But then he was outranked. First, Martavis Bryant returned from suspension. Then the Steelers drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round. And he almost immediately seized the slot role before moving into the starting lineup, his rookie stat line putting Rogers’ line from the year before to shame.
In 2017, he ended up with just 18 receptions for 149 yards and one score, even finding himself inactive as a healthy scratch for a couple of games, and barely seeing much of any playing time in most others. Yet he played a lot in the Divisional Round, catching a season-high five passes for 42 yards, which was only the third time he had more than 21 yards in a game that year.
Rather than ending on a high note, however, Rogers exited the game with what he initially seemed to expect was a minor knee injury. He was reported yesterday that it was a torn ACL. And a wide receiver tearing his ACL in mid-January does not bode well for him playing in September.
The former undrafted free agent is now slated to be a restricted free agent, and given that he is not in line to be among the top three wide receivers, nor will he even be able to practice much if at all this offseason, the chances are good that he is not going to be given a restricted free agent tender.
At the moment, an original-round tender for 2018 I believe will come in fairly close to $2 million, which is something that a cap-strapped team like Pittsburgh is not going to give away lightly. But of course a player does not need to be given a tender in order to return. Stevenson Sylvester is one example of a restricted free agent who was not tendered but later re-signed to a veteran-minimum contract.
Even if Rogers was likely not going to be a frequent contributor in 2018 regardless, his return—his healthy return—would still offer valuable depth, particularly due to his skill set, as he remains one of the more precise and nuanced route runners among the wide receivers, and we saw in 2016 how important depth can become in a hurry.
Given his injury, the team might not re-sign Rogers at all, and if they do, there is a good chance that they wait until he is fully recovered. Of course, he will be able to recuperate with the team regardless of his unsigned status because of how and when the injury occurred.