Richard Rodgers Sr. got a rare treat last Thursday night.
Normally, he doesn’t get the chance to watch his son play football, at least not live. But when Richard Rodgers II had one of the best and most rewarding games of his NFL career on Thursday night, dad was watching.
The elder Rodgers is on Ron Rivera’s staff in Washington, so normally he’s busy coaching on Sundays. But since the Eagles played on Thursday, he was able to sit down and watch his son live out a redemption story on national television.
After a few years of injuries, being buried on depth charts and getting released by several teams, Rodgers caught six passes for 85 yards in the Eagles’ 22-21 win over the Giants.
“It was good to see him back out there and having some success,” Rodgers Sr. said to NBC Sports Philadelphia by phone this week. “It’s always a good time when I get to sit back and watch him play.”
Because of injuries to Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the Eagles are relying on Rodgers as their top tight end. In a huge win on Thursday night, Rodgers came through in the clutch too, catching two passes for 41 yards on the Eagles’ game-winning drive against the Giants.
Rodgers, 28, is making the most of his new opportunity.
“He’s back on track now and it’s really good to see him hang in there,” Rodgers Sr. said. “That’s my thing with him. He hung in there. He had to persevere through the injuries and being second, third on the depth chart, all those things. It’s good to see him just hang in there and do well.”
The forgotten man
The Packers drafted Rodgers — whose family and friends call him Biggie — in the third round of the 2014 draft out of Cal. And his career got off to a pretty hot start. In December of 2014, Rodgers gained fame when he caught that Hail Mary touchdown from Aaron Rodgers to take down the Lions 27-23 at Ford Field. Rodgers finished that game with 146 receiving yards and his career was taking off.
Then in Year 2, Rodgers had his best NFL season, catching 58 passes for 510 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2015. But in 2016 and 2017, there was a drop in his numbers and he soon became a free agent.
Since then, his career has been full of injuries and transactions:
- April 4, 2018: Signed 1-year deal with Eagles
- Sept. 4, 2018: Placed on IR with knee injury
- Nov. 16, 2018: Activated off IR
- March 28, 2019: Signed 2-year deal with Eagles
- Aug. 30, 2019: Placed on IR with foot injury
- Sept. 11, 2019: Released off IR with injury settlement
- Dec. 24, 2019: Signed for stretch run by Eagles
- March 30, 2020: Signed by Washington
- Sept. 5, 2020: Released by Washington
- Sept. 8, 2020: Signed by Eagles for third time
In 2018 and 2019, Rodgers played in eight total games and had just one catch for seven yards. It looked like his best days were clearly behind him.
Coming back from injury
As it does with many players, the NFL basically tossed aside and forgot about Rodgers. The thought that his career could be over even crossed his mind.
“That’s always a concern, especially with injuries, because you don’t know how you’re going to bounce back from an injury,” Rodgers said this week. “And that’s definitely in the back of your head. But I’ve always tried to stay positive.
“You can’t really control much with an injury. Just rehab and try to stay the course and hope everything works out in the end. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Positivity is a theme with Rodgers. He was able to stay positive through both injuries, both rehabs and every other step he has needed to take over the last few years. It wasn’t easy, but he put on a brave face.
According to Rodgers Sr., the foot injury last season was the hardest to overcome, at least from a mental standpoint.
“I think that really tested his endurance and his belief in playing football and all those things,” Rodgers Sr. said. “Once he got over that and he said he still wanted to play and he was still willing to work at it, then I thought this is good for him and he’ll be fine. It was his decisions he had to make but I think he made the right ones.”
The younger Rodgers is a pretty under-the-radar, humble and easygoing guy. He’s not boastful but has always had a quiet confidence, even dating back to his days as a freshman basketball player on the high school varsity squad.
Longtime family friend Jeff Oliver, who is the strength and conditioning coach at Holy Cross High School, where Rodgers Sr. used to coach, had the perfect way to describe Rodgers’ personality: He’s the kind of guy who will laugh at your jokes, even if they’re a little stupid.
Last offseason, Rodgers II met up with Oliver for a few weeks of training during the offseason. Oliver said Rodgers still had the same great personality he had as a teenager at his performance camps. Oliver thinks that positive energy really helped Rodgers through some rough times.
“Obviously, it was disappointing to see that happen to him,” Oliver said about Rodgers’ injuries. “He is, like, the most positive person I have ever met. He seems like a big, little kid. A happy guy who loves to play and isn’t afraid to pay the price to do it.
“He always smiles and if you’re a father and you have a kid like that, you know you raised him right. Just a happy kid, confident in what he does and not afraid to buckle down when he needs to.”
Finding the field
For five months this summer, Richard Rodgers Sr. and Richard Rodgers II got to be coworkers in Washington.
After coaching under Rivera in Carolina, Rodgers Sr. was hired as the Washington Football Team’s new assistant secondary coach. And then the team went out and signed his son in late March. Rodgers Sr. said he had always heard good things about his son’s work ethic but it was good to see it for himself.
But after Washington released him at final cuts, Rodgers came back to the Eagles and now finds himself on the other side of his father in a division rivalry. The Eagles and Washington don’t play again until Week 17, but the way things are going, that might be for the NFC East title.
“It won’t be the first time,” Rodgers Sr. said. “The only thing that bothers me about that is he plays his best games when he’s against us. His numbers against Carolina are probably pretty good if you look them up.”
While Rodgers Sr. was in Carolina, he had to face his son three times. In those three games, Rodgers II had 10 catches for 97 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Of course, by the time Week 17 rolls around, there’s a good chance the Eagles will have Ertz and Goedert back, relegating Rodgers to special teams duty and limited offensive snaps.
The thing about Rodgers, though, is that he doesn’t care — at least he says he doesn’t. Every time he’s ever asked about his stats or his standing in the league, Rodgers responds with the same kind of answer: All he cares about is helping his team win however he can. He sounds like he means it.
But with dad on the phone, I just had to ask: Is your son really that selfless of a player?
“Yeah,” Rodgers Sr. said after a good chuckle. “Obviously, he thinks he can play as good as anybody and I think he can as well. But I think he’s learned and he’s been taught that you do your job. You do what’s asked of you and you do it to the best of your ability and good things will come from you doing that.”
If anyone knows that, it’s Rodgers. He had to wait a few years for good things to happen for him. And now they finally are.