ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC) – One of the most popular Redskins of all-time, tight end Chris Cooley’s eight-year run in Washington came to an end Tuesday morning.
An emotional Cooley announced that the only NFL team he’s every played for had released him during an impromptu press conference at Redskins Park.
“This will be brief,” Cooley said as an opening to a four-minute and 30-second statement.
The veteran pass-catcher didn’t use any written notes during his announcement. He spoke candidly off the top of his head, at times pausing to fight back tears.
“The Washington Redskins are releasing me today,” he said. “So today, for the time being, will be my last day as a Redskin.”
Cooley was drafted by the Redskins in the third round of the 2004 draft, chosen with the 81st overall selection after Joe Gibbs traded up to acquire the Utah State product’s services. In the eight seasons since, Cooley became Washington’s all-time leader in catches by a tight end.
The 30-year-old, Wyoming native ranks ninth on Washington’s all-time lists in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. In the club’s 80-year history, only four Redskins have ever caught more passes than Cooley did.
“I’ve loved every minute of playing here,” Cooley said. “I’ve been very fortunate to play for a franchise and for a fan base that has embraced me the way that they have. This organization has changed my life in every way for the better.”
Head coach Mike Shanahan said that Cooley’s release was made to give the ninth-year veteran the chance to start elsewhere. But during his press conference, Cooley made it clear that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to play for another team just yet.
“It would be a tough decision for me to put on another jersey,” he said. “It’s something I’ve really never had to imagine. For now, I’ll take some time and make sure what I do in the future is exactly what I want to do.”
While Cooley is confident that he can still play at a starting-caliber level in the NFL, he’s spoken in the past about not wanting to play for any team other than the Redskins.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection who tallied 70 catches three times in his career and accumulated five 700-yard seasons in a six-year span, Cooley’s productivity bottomed out in an injury-riddle 2011 season.
He was coming off a serious injury and decided to play on a still-recovering knee rather than undergoing a more natural–and lengthy–rehabilitation. After five games and just eight receptions, Cooley suffered a broken finger in an October game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was placed on injured reserve soon thereafter.
Cooley missed 11 games in 2011 and nine more in 2009. In the season sandwiched between those two campaigns he played in all 16 games, catching 77 balls for a career-high tying 849 yards. His success that year, the last time he’s been healthy, may have a lot to do with Cooley’s continued confidence that he still has quality football left in him.
“I have every belief that I can be, not only a productive player but a starter in this league,” he said. “I’m very confident in my abilities to continue to play the game.”
Tight end Fred Davis, who Cooley mentored over the past four seasons, is Washington’s unquestioned starting tight end. He’s become a dynamic player and has a combination of speed and strength that could allow him to develop into one of the league’s premiere targets at his position.
Converted wide receiver Niles Paul and third-year backup Logan Paulsen were also competing for playing time at the position that Cooley has anchored in Washington since 2004. All three will now be asked to help replace the departed veteran, who was considered Washington’s most consistent blocker at tight end.
But as high-ceiling a player as Davis is, he’s a failed drug test away from a second suspension for banned substances (which would span 16 games) and Paul has never played in a regular season game at tight end. Cooley, whether or not he could still perform at the pro bowl level he once did, was seen as a safety valve; a steadying influence at a position where plenty can go wrong.
By releasing him on Tuesday, Shanahan and the rest of the Redskins’ coaching staff provided emphatic endorsements of Davis, Paul and Paulsen.
“It’s always risky when you don’t have to make a move and you make it anyhow,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “But we did what we thought was right for him and the organization and we wish him well.”
Cooley, also very popular for his work in the community, has spoken in the past about wanting to be somehow involved with the Redskins’ organization long after his playing days. For now, the fan favorite will have to determine whether or not he wants to attempt to latch on with another club. If he does, Cooley could be hindered by the fact that final roster cuts are only three days away and a slew of other tight ends will be looking for work as well.
“Anytime you deal with people like Chris, it’s always very tough to talk about things like this,” Shanahan said. “That’s as tough as it gets,” he added.
Cooley’s Redskins career will end with him having hauled in 428 passes and scored 33 touchdowns.
“I can’t tell you how much I think of this staff and the players on this team,” Cooley said. “I wish everyone here the best. There’s really no hard feelings for me.. Thank you to our fans. It’s been great.”
Listen here to the entire Chris Cooley & Mike Shanahan press conferences.
Chris Cooley Press Conference Audio
Mike Shanahan Press Conference Audio