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Elfin: A Beloved Redskin Became ‘Expendable’

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MORE PHOTOSCredit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

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ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC) – Wow. What was supposed to be a quiet day at Redskins Park on the eve of the preseason finale against Tampa Bay in which the starters won’t even play turned into one of the most tumultuous in a while.

First, Graham Gano was cut 24 hours after seemingly having won the kicking job for a third straight summer. And then the media was summoned out back to hear Chris Cooley, the longest-tenured member of the team, announced that he, too, was now an ex-Redskin.

So many memories came flooding back as Cooley talked from the heart, choking up a couple of times, especially when the most popular Redskin of his era thanked the fans. And we hard-bitten reporters do appreciate your thanks for how we covered you, Chris.

For me, Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green was the one constant presence from when I first covered the Redskins in 1989 until I came off the beat for a while in 2000. When I returned in 2004, Cooley was always in the locker room – even when he was on injured reserve much of the past two seasons — and remained so until today.

I thought that he would stick this year as a $3.8 million insurance policy in case Fred Davis, who supplanted him as the starter in 2011, failed another drug test which would prompt a year-long suspension. However, head coach Mike Shanahan believes that converted receiver Niles Paul and blocking specialist Logan Paulsen are good enough backups to make Cooley expendable.

It has to be hard for many Redskins fans to read the words “Cooley expendable,” but when you’ve seen Art Monk, at the time the NFL’s leading career receiver, shown the door, every player’s expendable. Pro sports, especially the NFL with its paucity of guaranteed contracts, can be very lucrative but also an exceedingly cold “what have you done for me lately?” business.

Just 21 when he was drafted in the third round in 2004 by once-and-again coach Joe Gibbs, Cooley was overshadowed as a rookie by top pick Sean Taylor. But Cooley became a full-time starter in his second year, catching 71 passes, seven for touchdowns, three in the December rout of archrival Dallas that helped propel Washington to the playoffs for the first time in six years. Afterwards, Cooley laughed when he revealed that he had lost his fantasy football playoff matchup that week because his opponent “owned” him and got the three TDs.

Cooley was chosen for his first Pro Bowl in 2007, but his best game came in a loss at Green Bay where receiver Santana Moss’ rare awful performance and Taylor’s superb interceptions of Brett Favre were the bigger story. Cooley made the Pro Bowl again the next year under new coach Jim Zorn, who could be as goofy as his tight end. Cooley would don short shorts or wild socks or change his hairstyle because he was bored with the same old, same old.

It was during Zorn’s tenure that Cooley wed a former Redskins cheerleader and accidentally showed his private parts and part of Washington’s playbook on the Internet. Cooley also semi-jokingly ripped Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in a video and bragged that he was better after the catch than Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

But Cooley was no self-obsessed, single-minded athlete. An art major at Utah State who spent much of his time during last year’s NFL lockout behind a pottery wheel, Cooley visited local high schools to award budding arts majors and their schools scholarships and endowment funds.

Cooley also helped raise money to fight breast cancer because his mother, Nancy, is a survivor of the disease. She became a minor celebrity as did Cooley’s brother/blogging partner, Tanner, who would often bring such Caps as Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green into the postgame locker room at FedEx Field to chat with No. 47.

The Redskins’ crash to the bottom of the NFC East the past three years pained Cooley — whose 422 catches are fifth in franchise history behind only the totals of Monk, Hall of Famer Charley Taylor, four-time Pro Bowl pick Gary Clark and Moss — as much as anyone. For a kid who grew up in Utah, Cooley bled burgundy and gold. He wasn’t kidding when he said today that he has no hard feelings towards the Redskins for letting him go and doesn’t know if he can see himself in another jersey. At 30, no longer able to run as smoothly as he did as recently as 2010 when he caught 84 passes for 849 yards, it’s questionable if Cooley will get a shot from another team, let alone the chance to start that he wants.

“It’s been awesome,” Cooley said today. “It’s been a good ride.”

I agree, Chris. It’s been awesome. Good luck. I know that you’ll be a success in whatever you do next.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin

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