Aaron Rodgers often praised Richard Rodgers’ hands, during their four years together in Green Bay. But with the Packers’ future Hall-of-Fame quarterback limited to a half-dozen games last season, the tight end of the same last name too often came up empty-handed. He caught just 12 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown.
This offseason, both the Packers and Richard Rodgers decided it was time to move on, so Friday, Rodgers was introducing himself to reporters at NovaCare, after signing a one-year deal with the Eagles, which he hopes will provide a better platform for free agency next season, or become a springboard to a subsequent contract here.
“Watching the Eagles play on TV last year, I felt like I just enjoyed that the most – they had an exciting fan base, exciting players, celebrations, they were doing a lot of fun stuff. It’s hard to beat a team that has that kind of chemistry,” Rodgers said. “I felt like I wanted to be a part of that.”
Asked his biggest strength, Rodgers said: “My ability to catch the ball,” something he did 58 times for 510 yards and eight touchdowns for the Packers in 2015, a year after they drafted him in the third round from Cal. But Rodgers, 6-foot-4, 257, isn’t real fast or shifty. The Packers have brought in a succession of more athletic tight ends, signing Jimmy Graham in free agency this year; clearly they felt Rodgers’ upside was limited.
“I was playing a lot of snaps;  was my highest snap-count year,” Rodgers said. “We had a lot of injuries, a number of things contributed to that.”
A game-winning Hail Mary catch that year against Detroit gave him big-play cred with his father, Carolina Panthers assistant coach Richard Rodgers Sr. The elder Rodgers was Cal’s special teams captain for “The Play” against Stanford in 1982, handling the ball twice during a five-lateral romp through the Stanford band.
Rodgers was on the field for 69.66 percent of Green Bay’s snaps in 2015, when Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target, Jordy Nelson, was injured. That number dwindled to 29.13 percent by 2017.
“I just did what I was told, did what the coaches asked me to do,” Rodgers said. “That’s all you can do as a player … my numbers dropped for whatever reason.”
The Eagles will use him behind Zach Ertz, who has caught more passes (321) for more yards (3,664) in his first five seasons than any tight end in franchise history over such a span. For an Eagles team holding only six selections in the upcoming draft, and whose first two picks are 32nd and 130th, Rodgers lowers the stakes considerably on replacing the snaps of Trey Burton and Brent Celek.
“I feel like I’m a little bit versatile – In Green Bay, I played in the backfield a little bit, played in-line,” said Rodgers, who at 26 has played in 63 of a possible 64 NFL games.
Rodgers might not be quite as good a blocker as Celek became over his 11 Eagles seasons, or quite as good an athlete as Burton, who signed for four years and $32 million this offseason with Chicago. But if Doug Pederson decides to call the “Philly Special” again, Rodgers said he’ll be ready to assume Burton’s historic role.
“If you ask around, I think you’ll find that I can throw the ball pretty well,” he said.