Five days shy of two months ago, Mike Shanahan deemed Chris Cooley expendable. Cooley had caught more passes than any tight end in Redskins history, including 77 for 849 yards in 2010, but his ugly, injury-shortened 2011 season and 30th birthday in July doomed him in the what have you done for me lately NFL.
Funny how losing Cooley’s replacement/Washington’s leading pass-catcher Fred Davis, changes a coach’s perspective. That and the fact that Davis’ backups, Logan Paulsen and converted wide receiver Niles Paul, have combined for just nine catches and 131 yards after Paulsen’s career-high four catches for 76 yards after Davis went down at the Meadowlands.
“We’re excited to have him,” Shanahan said after re-signing Cooley yesterday to fill the roster spot opened by Davis’ season-ending ruptured left Achilles suffered in Sunday’s loss at the New York Giants. “Any time you lose a guy like Fred, it’s always tough. He was having a heck of a year. … I expect Chris to play at the level he played at in the past. … I trust Chris. If he says he’s in good shape, he’s in good shape. Hopefully he can help us this week. Your concern is: has he been working out? Chris has. That gives him a chance to get back [in football shape] a lot quicker. If he says he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go. We’re going to expect him to come in and contribute.”
So does Cooley, who tomorrow will once again don his No. 47 practice jersey and walk by the spot where he delivered an emotional farewell to the organization after being cut on Aug. 28.
“I feel very fortunate that I didn’t go somewhere else, because this is the opportunity that I wanted,” Cooley said. “I’d be kicking myself if I was in another city right now and this came up. I didn’t want to play in a situation where I was in a diminished role from what I knew I could be. I would have done it for the [Redskins]. It’s fortunate for me I get to play where I want to play; fortunate for them that I sat here and waited. I think I could play this week and I’ll continue to get better as the season goes on. I’m healthy and I’m excited to go. I wasn’t doing squats power cleans and squats and lifting to ‘Rocky’ music, but I’m in good shape.”
It’s fitting that Cooley replaces Davis. After all, he’s just returning the favor he did Davis twice.
In Washington’s seventh game of 2009, Cooley suffered a season-ending broken leg and second-year man Davis got his first chance to play extensively. After his big year in Shanahan’s Washington debut, Cooley never really recovered from offseason knee surgery and then went on injured reserve after Week 6 of 2011 with a broken finger. Davis put together a breakout season before being suspended for the final four games after multiple failed drug tests.
But now Cooley is back and pumped to be part of the NFL’s No. 5 offense whose only other active players in their 30s are slot receiver Santana Moss, third-string quarterback Rex Grossman and reserve tackle Jordan Black. When Cooley last played 53 weeks ago, Moss was the No. 1 receiver for starting quarterback Grossman. As the saying goes, NFL stands for Not For Long. So as he starts a delayed team-high ninth season in Washington, “Captain Chaos” is even more gung-ho than usual about being a Redskin.
“I am very excited to be a part of this team,” Cooley said. “It’s been unreal watching them come together as an offense and not be there. It’s a good opportunity. I think I have a chance to play a large role.”
A chance, yes. And who knows where this second chance goes? More than likely, Paulsen is the starter the rest of the way. With Davis unsigned for 2013, Paul could be the man next year. But Cooley was the man, when healthy, from 2005-10. He just might be again, if healthy.
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