For the past couple of months, I have been writing that three things had to happen in order for tight end Chris Cooley to make the Washington Redskins' 2012 roster: He had to prove he was healthy, be willing to accept a lesser role and take a pay cut. He managed to accomplish the first thing with a healthy offseason, and I have no idea whether the third thing even came up. But to hear Redskins coach Mike Shanahan tell it, the second thing was the sticking point that led the Redskins to tell Cooley on Tuesday that they were releasing him. Per John Keim:
"I told him Fred [Davis] was going to be our starter," Shanahan said. "There was no guarantee, but if he wanted to be a starter I would give him every option to seek that opportunity out and that's what we're doing at this time."
There's no way to know if Cooley will find work elsewhere at this point in the offseason. He's 30 years old and has missed 20 games over the past three seasons due to injury. He was surpassed last year by Davis on the tight end depth chart, and this offseason the team converted wide receiver Niles Paul to tight end and has high hopes for him. Even had he made the team, it's hard to imagine how much playing time they could have found for Cooley.
Add in the fact that Cooley is an unabashed Redskins fan, to the point where he had tears in his eyes when he addressed the media today and said it would be difficult to put on anyone else's uniform. Cooley has always been outspoken about his love for the organization, even engaging in fan-like behavior towards Tony Romo and the rival Dallas Cowboys in his public comments. It's one of the things that has endeared him to Redskins fans during his eight years in Washington, and there's little doubt that today's decision hurts Cooley and his fans on an unusually emotional level.
As he leaves, it's worth mentioning some things about Cooley. His team-first talk wasn't lip service. He worked at fullback this preseason in place of the injured Darrel Young in an effort to show the team he could help in other ways if they were interested in finding a way to keep him. He has been a hands-on help to Davis and Paul as they have learned the position and honed their craft at the NFL level. These are two guys that were trying to take his job (and, apparently, succeeding), yet Cooley devoted time and energy to helping them get better because it was the best thing for the team. He has obviously known for a long time that today's news was a possibility -- even a likelihood -- and yet he continued to carry himself with class and go about his job on a daily basis the very best he could. He deserves to be commended for his professionalism and to be remembered fondly by teammates, coaches and fans.
"He helped me get comfortable with this team & this offense. He is a legend in my mind and will be missed. Thank You Chris Cooley," rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) wrote on Twitter shortly after the news broke, and Griffin is expressing a sentiment likely being felt all around the Redskins' building today in Ashburn, Va.
I have no idea if Cooley will find work elsewhere or even if he wants to. But he was a hard-working, productive, fan-favorite player amid a not-real-good era in Redskins history, and I'm sure he'll forever hold a place in the hearts of the team's fans.