- No one should be surprised for a minute that Chris Cooley was released. Cooley was a terrific player in Washington for much of his eight seasons, but he missed a combined 20 games in two of the past three seasons, had been relegated to backup duty and there was a receiver moved to his position. He also cost approximately $6.2 million against the cap. The math added up for him being on the bubble. Some coaches who knew him did not expect him to last the entire training camp, thinking his body would start to break down. Here’s what one told me before camp in my email report: “I think he’s done… Age and poor training caught up to him three years ago, but it’s not just poor conditioning. Once the tread on your tires go, you can’t put it back on. How many times do we see a guy who appears old one season and then young the next? Once the slide starts it never ends. Age is one thing, but age and injury is a slippery slope. It’s been that way for a couple years.” This was one opinion, but it was that of someone with a wealth of NFL coaching experience.
2. Having said that, Cooley was in good shape this summer, didn’t miss any time because of injuries and showed that he could still help a team. What role? That’s the tough question. He willingly tutored the other tight ends, was very smart in terms of understanding the offense and versatile. Was he the same player from a couple years ago? No, he didn’t seem to be. But it was also hard to tell because his opportunities were a little less – by design or the result of not getting enough separation? It’s not as if he was bad, but he wasn’t making plays he had made previously. Again, was it the routes he was asked to run or that he wasn’t getting open? Neither was Fred Davis making big plays, but Davis didn’t have to prove to the coaches that he still offered something. They knew. Clearly, the coaches wanted to see something more from Cooley. If they wanted more speed, a guy with two leg injuries in three years was going to have some issues, perceived or real. His game was never about speed – he ran a 4.87 at the 2004 combine, but a 4.7 at his pro day– it was about savviness and breaking tackles downfield. Still, always remember that this team wants two things right now: speed and youth.
3. I had gone back and forth as to whether or not Cooley would make the final roster. When you’re doing so, it’s not about whether you like a guy or not. It’s all about what you think the team thinks and what you see as a player’s value. Two weeks ago, the answer was no. You hear things and you wonder… This week I leaned toward yes. There were a lot of factors that entered into play. I’m a big Niles Paul fan because of what he adds to the team. And he definitely provides more speed than Cooley. Is he ready to be a full-time No. 2 tight end? Tough to say that right now he is; the thing you must do is project with him and see what he could be by season’s end, not the beginning. Paul clearly is still learning. Cooley is a better blocker (Davis is not a consistent blocker), versatile and a reliable target with good hands. But, and here’s the but: He was going to make $3.8 million as a base salary. Do you pay that for a No. 2 tight end? I can tell you there are people in the organization here that said in the past, no, you don’t. That’s an absolute lock. Once you hear that, this day is always a possibility. But if his salary was the only issue, why not cut him a while ago? Because they still wanted to see if he could help them (or trade him). And as the one coach said, Cooley was an insurance policy for Davis (drug suspension).
4. I also remember watching Jon Jansen in the end; you could see signs of his eventual struggles in one-on-one practice settings when he started getting beat by guys he hadn’t in the past. Sometimes with guys who have been good players, you don’t want to see the signs. Jansen was a terrific Redskin for a long time, but injuries caught up to him too. It’s not pretty at the end for most players. Only Darrell Green ended the way he wanted. And you know why? Because Marty Schottenheimer was fired. Had Schottenheimer stuck around another year I’m not sold that Green would have. That’s about the only guy I’ve seen leave here on his terms. It happens. Cooley was one of the most popular players, is the all-time leading pass catcher at tight end in franchise history and a likeable guy. His name will be posted in FedEx Field one day and he’ll be one of the 90 greatest in 10 years. He leaves a legacy. Not everyone does.
5. Did Cooley really push for this release so he could go elsewhere to start? Let’s just say I’d be surprised by that. I wasn’t in the room with Cooley and Mike Shanahan when they discussed the release. But Cooley — who had told reporters that of course his goal/desire was to start — was excited about the future of this team and had been for a while. He didn’t want to consider playing elsewhere and tried to make himself more valuable (playing fullback, for example). It meant everything to him to continue playing in Washington; the emotion he showed during his press conference was real. If he just wanted to start, he wouldn’t suggest he’s going to sit back and think about the direction he was going. In his farewell speech he never mentioned the idea that he wanted to go elsewhere just so he could start. Even in casual conversations he struggled with the idea of playing elsewhere and what would happen if they had traded him. Speaking of a trade, there’s little doubt that the Redskins shopped him around. But his value wasn’t high last summer; it was less this year – and his base salary made it a tough sell. Over the past several years, a few league sources when talking about Cooley would call him a good, but not great player. He was viewed differently in Washington.
Plus one: Cooley was one of the most interesting players to cover for a writer; he was more than just about football. He was classy, affable, smart, insightful about his job – he hated talking about mundane topics such as, “What went wrong in that game.” Or, “How big is this Dallas rivalry?” I think he was bored by those questions and, honestly, so was I. But get him on other topics and he was great. Even as a rookie he had a lot to say; I used to do a weekly diary with him and enjoyed talking 10-15 minutes on various aspects of the game and life as a new guy. And for a guy on the so-called bubble this summer he was upbeat all the time. He was firm in his belief that the Redskins were heading in the right direction and liked talking about that. There was one point this summer when he even talked about where the team could be next year and, for a moment, you could tell he wasn’t sure if he’d be a part of it. The game moves on.
Plus two: What does this mean for the rest of the roster? It gives the Redskins flexibility to keep a ninth offensive lineman, a seventh receiver or a ninth linebacker. Just basing it on talent, receiver or linebacker gets the nod. That could mean good news for Dezmon Briscoe or Terrence Austin or Brandon Banks. Or maybe for Bryan Kehl, Chris Wilson or Markus White.
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